Today, NewsiT, a startup that connects individuals via a website to crowdsource the news-making process, announced that it has closed a $500,ooo seed round and is launching its iPhone app. The site allows users to sign up and contribute to the generation of news stories either in response to assignments, or those they come up with on their own, by writing, interviewing, shooting photos or videos, fact-checking or basically helping out any way they’re able.
NewsiT’s twist, which isn’t a component of competitors like Storyful, is to reward users for interaction via points, badges and rewards. For example, during its SXSW promotion, NewsiT founder and CEO Melinda Wittstock told BetaKit that the site would be giving away Apple’s just-announced new iPad to the person with the most points on NewsiT by the end of the festival. That’s just the first step, Wittstock said, and other deals and offers from site sponsors will be available to users going forward.
Content is curated both by algorithms that Wittstock says the company is constantly improving upon, which not only help organize content but also take care of story editing. But as a quality and legal assurance layer, user-generated content is also subject to review by human editors. “We also use professional journalists to be the final arbiter,” she said. “They make sure that anything that’s sensitive is double-checked.” Wittstock says this is a crucial element not only to ensuring quality of content, but also to helping the economic model of the site work. Advertisers can trust to put their ads up next to NewsiT’s content as a result of its quality assurance methods, she said, which is something a lot of other crowdsourced content sites are lacking.
“The game layer isn’t just about points or badges,” Wittstock said. “It’s also tied to some pretty heavy back-end analytics to help us identify user strengths and weaknesses.” She said NewsiT will eventually be able to identify users who are consistently better at fact-checking or accurate reporting, bubbling their content up. That’ll help with the site’s eventual goal of deploying an API that allows other sites to license its content for display on their own pages, with option custom branding.
NewsiT competitor Storyful’s goal is to leverage social networks to create “authentic, cooperative and socially useful journalism.” Similar to Storify, Storyful allows users to build a story using tweets, images and videos. And similar to NewsiT, Storyful wants to take advantage of locals who might be closer to breaking news, or have a more informed perspective on the story of the day (they offer both iPhone and Android apps). Users can publish their stories to community pages, and the stories can then be shared on social networks. The front page lists popular Tweets, and stories from the community.
The Irish company also offers a pro service for publishers, which feeds the curated stories from the community to news outlets around the world. The company acts as a conduit between the people shooting breaking news videos and photos, and the outlets who want to feature them. Storyful connects publishers and news outlets with the original source so they can discuss featuring original content. Storyful employs a team of editors and journalists who help sift through the content, and they raised an undisclosed amount of funding in December 2011. Unlike NewsiT, Storyful doesn’t offer any incentives beyond bringing local news stories to light, which brings up the question of why users would participate. But if there’s the opportunity to have their media featured on traditional media outlets, that could be reason enough.
NewsiT’s round of funding indicates that tools focused on citizen journalism will only continue to grow. The big challenge for these startups will be making sure there’s enough interest from both contributors of content and readers to make it worthwhile. Publishers will want to keep an eye on how these startups are enabling first-hand accounts of breaking news, similar to how journalists are using social discovery apps to talk to bystanders.
With additional reporting from Erin Bury.