UK regional publisher Archant and citizen journalism photo news agency Citizenside have teamed up to launch iwitness24, a community news platform which will help "to bring the locals back to local news", a press release announced today.
Archant readers, divided into 7 regional sub-communities, can contribute content through the website - accessible through a one-click sign in with Facebook Connect - or the iPhone and the Android applications. This allows them to share geotagged photos, videos, and text articles directly with their local newsrooms.
The initiative, which uses Citizenside's Reporter Kit technology, aims to allow Archant to more effectively engage with its readers and foster the power of its local communities.
Using the "Calls for Witnesses" tool, Archant can send geotargetted news alerts to members within 1 km of breaking news events to ask for their help in coverage, the press release explains.
"The technology actually associates a geolocation - provided when users sign up - with every member. With this tool, Archant's local journalists can then contact their readers they know to be in the area of a news event", Garrett Goodman, International Coordinator for Citizenside, told the Editors Weblog.
"The implications for breaking news here are obvious, a news outlet can't have its journalists everywhere all the time, but its readers are likely to be nearby," Goodman continued. Readers could also be asked to fulfil missions for planned events, such as taking pictures at local art fairs and music festivals, or at celebrations for the upcoming Chinese New Year.
"Your news is our news" is iwitness24's slogan: readers and editors can interact in different ways and users can help the newspapers in the local coverage. From leaving a comment to engaging in longer conversations with journalists, readers can play an active role in local news reporting. Contributions from users appears on the community platform but could also be used by journalists as material for a bigger story.
Interaction between readers and journalists is encouraged both on a digital level, through the assigned tasks, and in real life. Archant has in fact created a special iwitness24 members' room in its Norfolk regional headquarters, "complete with computers and a coffee machine," so that readers can come in and connect with the journalists and editors, the press release said.
With regards to the verification process, Goodman explains: "When readers share content it goes straight to a special CMS for verification and moderation, and once approved by an editor, the upload will get its own article page in the community website".
The platform uses the same game mechanism on which Citizenside in based: users gain points and scores for submitting content and these generate a ranking of community engagement. On Citizenside, users are ranked by quantified trust levels depending on their commitment and on how trustworthy their content was proven to be.
Bringing the community into the newsroom is a hot topic in today's journalism world. Other innovative ways to engage with readers include the live chat eEditor at the local Swedish newspaper Norran, which brings readers' input into the daily decision-making process and the American JRC's Register Citizen's newsroom café, where the public is invited to "be a part of the process of local journalism at every step".
Sources: press release, interview