Interview: Merrill Brown, Chairman, NowPublic: Moving Citizen Journalism Towards Profitability

imageThe question of whether citizen journalism can exist within the context of a business organization – and still maintain its values – was a major focus of this past week’s Networked Journalism Summit, which was organized by Jeff Jarvis with CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism. One of the summit’s speakers, Merrill Brown, a New York-based media consultant and chairman of citizen journalism aggregator NowPublic, claims to have some answers. I spoke with Brown, who was also founding editor-in-chief at MSNBC.com and a senior exec at *RealNetworks*, before his panel:

Viability: Asked if Vancouver-based NowPublic, which gathers news by citizen journalists from locations around the world, can become self-sustaining, Brown replied, “We raised $10.6 million in venture money this summer, so we have to. Investors have that expectation; this is not foundation-supported. We’re going to spend a lot of energy moving towards profitability over the next few years.” More after the jump…

The Plan: Brown added that the one round would be enough to hold the two-year-old company for a while and there are no plans for seeking additional funding. So with financing out of the way, Brown offered two ways NowPublic will be able to build revenue: Replicate its business relationship with the AP – which taps NowPublic’s network to cover news in remote areas – with dozens of other companies. If it can line up those deals, NowPublic believes it can become “the portal” for citizen journalism content worldwide. Brown: “If we are the people delivering a citizen’s view of what’s going on in the world, that’s a valuable place to be and we ought to be able to make a business out of it.”

Major Media Sees The Value: In a way, MSNBC’s recent purchase of social news site Newsvine offers validation that citizen journalism has attained a measure of respect in traditional media quarters. It will also signal to others that the time is right for the kinds of arrangements NowPublic seeks. Brown: “If an MSNBC is realizing that they need to go out and invest in creating, with a partner, a citizen journalist/social media strategy, that endorses what we’ve believed all along about the fact that this isn’t something off in the corner… It’s right at the heart of where journalism and media need to go.”

The recording of our conversation is here. (MP3, 1.7MB)