Newspapers and their editors have slowly come to embrace user-generated content, or citizen journalism, as necessary components of their journalistic products. In less than a year, Dutch citizen photojournalism venture Skoeps has made a profit by collecting user-generated content and selling it to news agencies, thanks to an online platform that enables users to submit content from their mobiles.
Skoeps was launched in October 2006, inspired in part by the ‘success’ of the amateur footage of the London subway bombings. With a mere six staffers and a few interns, Skoeps – which stands for ‘scoops’ – now counts about 5,000 registered users nationwide and posts between 100 and 300 news items per day.
Furthermore Skoeps and Endemol (developer of Big Brother) just announced the launch of daily, citizen journalism, TV news shows on IK OP TV (‘Me on TV’), broadcast by seven regional TV channels.
Femke Jansen, Director of Communications at Skoeps, tells the Editors Weblog why traditional media have little to fear, and how they can benefit from citizen journalism.
What does citizen journalism have to offer to traditional news coverage?
"It's not necessarily big news," but “amateurs have an original view on news,” says Femke, which can be complementary to traditional coverage. Among its advantages: citizen coverage gives more of a sense of immediacy, “a special twist” to news. This doesn’t mean user-generated is better content, “it’s just an extra,” says Femke.
Although “when news is really hot, quality doesn’t matter as much,” she says, alluding to the mobile footage of Saddam Hussein’s execution. In those cases, breaking a citizen’s poor quality footage is of more value than waiting for a professional journalist’s coverage.
Are pure citizen journalism ventures competitors or contributors to traditional media organizations?
“Newspapers should embrace this trend” because “it is a great way for them to involve readers,” says Femke. She doesn’t consider Skoeps or user-generated news outlets as being competitors to newspapers, saying citizen journalism is just “an addition to regular news coverage,” although she also admits – forcefully – that Skoeps eventually aims to produce much of the same kind of news that is found in traditional media.
What will be the split of pro and amateur coverage in mainstream sources in the near future (5years)?
The future of news lies within the proper mix of citizen and professional journalism, says Femke. The real question is to what extent will a traditional news source rely on professional coverage, and to what extent will it count on citizen journalists? Sorry to disappoint you, she doesn’t know either, although she guesses professional journalism will remain dominant for some time. The ratio of citizen journalism will continue to grow, but there will always be professional journalism, she says.
Femke believes that the quality of news will become increasingly important in the future – although this is not typically visible in current trends. This would point toward the upholding of professional standards and professional journalists, although “the quality of amateur footage will also improve.”
What are the examples of concrete collaboration between Skoeps and traditional media organizations?
Skoeps sells news items to the National Press Association. Most of this content has been videos so far, because the quality of pictures taken by mobile phones is still relatively low. Skoeps has also sold content to Zoom.in and freesheet De Pers.
Skoeps is also always seeking to sell its technological platform (which enables users to publish content online from their mobile phone) to news organizations and outside parties.
How is material selected? What Skoep’s editorial policy?
Skoeps’ content is checked by editors who verify the ‘newsworthiness’ and spelling of the pieces. It’s not necessarily big news. For example, Skoeps has a separate “Fire&Police” section: in smaller communities, these are often the types of news events captured by amateurs.
The editorial policy is fairly straightforward: neither porn, suicides nor gory materials, respect of privacy regulations, and of course no copies of existing news items, as all pieces must be user-generated content.
What are the incentives for reporters?
Whereas the largest Dutch newspaper has about 150 journalists, Skoeps already has 200 ‘staff’ journalists, who have demonstrated their dedication and the relative quality of their content. Skoeps gives them a mobile phone and an unofficial Skoeps press card, which actually does get them in some places.
Skoeps also gives its reporters feedback through a monthly email containing tips. The citizen venture plans to establish a photo workshop starting this month and is working with a journalism school to provide a one-week mobile course for students.
Citizen journalists are attracted by the luster of traditional media too. Seeing their content used by a newspaper or on TV is often their biggest reward. When content is sold to a news agency, or if ads are used with the content, the authors get 50% of the revenue.
How does a citizen journalism venture generate revenue?
Skoeps generates money in the same way traditional media do, by selling space to advertisers on its site and by running pre-roll ads with its videos. It also features videos of advertiser-sponsored events (which are still user-submitted).
Skoeps sells its items to news agencies, and contributors are given half of the revenue. The author of one of the most popular contributions, a video of John Legend getting aroused on stage, made 400 euros – which he never would have received had he stayed on YouTube.
Finally, Skoeps sells its platform to those interested in exporting the concept outside of the Netherlands. It has already developed versions of its website in other languages and is waiting on potential customers. In its latest TV deal, Endemol bought Skoeps’ technological platform. Now users submit their videos to Endemol’s or Skoeps’ website and can watch their very own pieces on television. Will we be seeing professional TV newscasts with user-generated content soon? It’s happened before, in exceptional circumstances, but this could be the case on a regular basis soon.
Within less than a year, Skoeps has achieved positive figures!
About Voices of Africa
About a month ago, Skoeps partnered the Africa Interactive Media Foundation to launch Voices of Africa, a program that trains and equips with mobile phones a group of independent African journalists. Have a look at this interview about the project with Hidde Kross, Skoeps’ vice-president.
“Just an extra”: it might be that tug traditional media need
Skoeps’ motto boasts 16 million reporters – the population of the Netherlands. It’s still far off the mark, but Skoeps’s achievements in a year clearly indicate that the model works and attract both an audience and contributors. So what can traditional media do about citizen journalism?
Praised as furthering journalism by some, considered a necessary evil by others, citizen journalism is nonetheless here to stay in the contemporary media landscape. As amateur-only outlets rise, traditional media have two choices: ‘resist’ and persist in an artificial antagonism, or hop on to the bandwagon.