For NowPublic Citizen Journalism Seems to Work

NowPublic, a Vancouver-based citizen journalism site has raised $10.6 million in Series A funding from Rho Ventures/Rho Canada, Brightspark, and the Working Opportunity Fund.

So first off, that’s a boatload of cash in the web news business and we’re not saying it’s justified. However, NowPublic is clearly attracting contributors (119,000 of them in 140 countries), money ($12.5 million in total), and partnerships (the key deal is with the Associated Press). Meanwhile, competitors like Backfence and Bayosphere are falling by the wayside.

So what is it that NowPublic is doing right? We spoke last week with CEO Len Brody last week and he did his best to dispel some myths of web-based citizen journalism. Here’s what he said:

Local Doesn’t Matter. “I’m not a believer in local anymore,” said Brody. “I used to think that hyperlocal was what mattered to people, but for 35 and under especially, the concept of local is very different. Like Facebook publishing the news feed… it’s changed from hyperlocal to hyperpersonal.” Weather, traffic, and crime are important, but they’re commodities, he said, adding local politics might be the exception, but nobody cares about them anymore.

Don’t Call It Citizen Journalism. “If you go to NowPublic, you will never ever see the term citizen journalism mentioned,” said Brody. “Telling someone they’re going to be a citizen journalist is like telling people they’re going to be a citizen dentist — most people view it as a profession and art form.” NowPublic’s preferred term is “crowd powered.”

Everything Is News. “If your dog wins a neighborhood beauty pageant, you can write about that,” he says. He compared NowPublic to Flickr (which was also based in Vancouver before being bought by Yahoo), where photos come from all contributors. Some of them are exceptional. “A larger pile of contributors means the better the cream is at the top.”

You Don’t Have to Pay Your Writers. “We’re personally not big believers in paying for content, because we want you to own your content.” Instead, NowPublic offers the possibility of a paid syndication deal with the AP. In the future, using some of its funding, the company wants to create a point system based on frequency and quality of participation — but not individual contributions — that might end up in financial rewards.

Mainstream Media Is the Measure of Success. “The AP picking us was the big win,” said Brody. So how’s it going? “We’re breaking stories for the AP that they would never had access to before,” says Brody, “We speak with their newsroom every day.” He cited examples of images of the recent cyclone in Oman, early reporting collaborating with Facebook users in the aftermath of the VA Tech massacre, last month’s first-person account of an airport confiscating a toddler’s sippy cup, and video of a burst crude oil pipeline in Canada last week.

So is NowPublic making money? Brody didn’t disclose revenues, but said it was coming in from advertising, content sales, and software licensing (deals on that front haven’t been publicly announced, though).

NowPublic said it would use its new cash is to invest in the mobile space, among other areas. For instance, the site could use SMS to alert people who are in the vicinity of a news event. (But wait a sec, didn’t he tell us “local doesn’t matter”?)


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