On the flood round for Demotix

Citizen journalism is liberating, but I haven’t yet managed to make it pay.

During the recent floods in Queensland I did some reporting for Demotix – the citizen news wire that draws on the efforts of 17,000 independent photographers to report of stories around the world, which it then sells to the mainstream press.

The site was conceived on the principles of freedom of information and freedom of expression and it is among the a new breed of media companies at the intersection of journalism, digital platforms and emerging business models.

Since its launch in 2009 the London-based company in December last year nailed an agreement with News Corp to push its content through News Core – News’s internal wire.

Since then editors in London have made greater effort to communicate with ‘reporting teams’ – feeding through ideas. During the floods Wais Bashir, editor-in-chief, sent regular emails to the Australian contributors, suggesting possible story angles.

It’s not commissioning, and there’s no obligation to follow through, but from a contributors point of view it does offer some structure.

However, I’m  still not sure what their clients want. One story I covered – the plight of Drift owner David Moore who had to sink his restaurant – was later covered by The Courier-Mail, a News Ltd paper, but they took their own photographs (so no sales).

Courier-Mail coverage of Drift - Jan 28, 2011

Here are some other observations:

Flexibility: I make decisions about what to file when.

Community: There is a group of 17,000 contributors who are doing the same thing and who, via comments, encourage and follow each other’s work.

Credibility: this type of journalism lacks the credibility of mainstream press – particularly in Brisbane. Despite the global reach, most of the mastheads are unknown to potential sources here and you can’t get the access other media does.

Photo focus: Demotix is after pictures primarily – they say text is difficult to verify and sell. I’ve filed both, because I’m a print journalist and I reckon they should be able to market a package.

I’ll continue to contribute to Demotix because it gives me an opportunity to keep my hand in grass roots  journalism practice and because I think we need more businesses, like this one, that are not run along traditional means.

Here’s my Demotix profile.

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