Newsmodo wants to be the middleman.
Newsmodo is a startup Web site aimed at helping freelance journalists and journalism students find customers for their wares. Contributors sign up with the service and submit stories, photos and video, which news organizations can purchase. (The news outlets set the prices.) Contributors get paid and the news organization gets footage of, say, a freak storm, without deploying its own resources.
Part marketing tool for journalists and part content trove for news outlets, Melbourne, Australia-based Newsmodo is a "one-stop shop for news organizations: video, copy, imagery – totally unique," says Rakhal Ebeli, the Web site founder and a former broadcast journalist.
Ebeli worked for Australia's Network Ten for a decade, starting in production at age 20 and working his way up to anchoring roles. For brief periods, Ebeli was the network's weatherman.
Ebeli says he plans to launch a beta version of the site in the next several weeks. Its genesis began when Ebeli noticed that the way media organizations were acquiring their content was changing. "During these last years [at Network Ten], I was noticing a shift in the nature of newsgathering and the role of the news reporter," Ebeli says.
Collecting news became a more diverse task, and citizen journalists were more sought after for their material, especially during big breaking news stories, Ebeli says.
In 2011, Ebeli launched the now-offline newsme.com.au, a Web site that was the skeleton of what would eventually become Newsmodo.
"We were attracted to the fact that [Newsmodo] is mobile, crowd- and collaborative-focused," says Ilya Frolov, general manager of Oxygen Ventures, a partner and investor in Newsmodo.
While Ebeli is eager to talk about the project, he's hard to pin down on how he expects it to make money. He says Newsmodo has no plans to charge contributors to set up accounts. The business model, which Ebeli calls "magic dust," is confidential, he says.
But Ebeli is clear about who Newsmodo is for: professional and student journalists. "We're not a social networking site. We have a very clear business model... We want to target professional journalists," he says.
Newsmodo will not be available to the general public for viewing or contributing. To determine who can contribute to the site, Newsmodo will evaluate user profiles. With an "open bucket site" such as YouTube, where anyone can post anything, the mass of content and variation in quality makes it hard to attract a positive response, Ebeli says. But that is not to discredit citizen journalism. "When news breaks, it's usually people who were at the right place at the right time who provide some of that content," Ebeli says.
Says Frolov, "In order to get high-quality content, you need to pay for it. If someone puts something on Twitter.. you're not paid. Outside of the social media sphere, you get paid." With Newsmodo, "you're uploading content to a marketplace," and news organizations "are effectively buying it from contributors."
Newsmodo hopes to tell stories that might otherwise be underreported, or not reported at all, due to news organizations' lack of resources. By enlisting contributors, particularly in remote areas, more global news is suddenly possible.
Newsmodo doesn't plan to edit the content it brokers. "What is being delivered to the platform is unedited and unadulterated contributions," Ebeli says. It's up to news organizations to decide how they use the material.
Ebeli cites Hurricane Sandy and the recent riots in Cairo as two examples of when news organizations would have benefitted from Newsmodo. Many of the grainy videos of protests, or the rain and wind pummeling Lower Manhattan captured on smartphones, was user-generated content. Newsmodo hopes the journalists and J-school students who contribute will provide similar material.
There has been interest in Newsmodo from newsrooms in the United States, China and South Korea, Ebeli says. Al Jazeera English, based in Qatar, has also expressed interest in using the platform, as have Australian companies Fairfax Media and News Limited, Ebeli adds.
Mathew Ingram, a writer at GigaOM, a business and technology Web site, thinks newsrooms will increasingly make use of material generated from the outside. "Whether it's Newsmodo or crowdsourcing, it's going to happen," Ingram says.
And the need to doublecheck material from outside contributors is nothing new, he adds. "It just requires different skills. It's not that different from a wire report or getting information on the telephone: You verify, you fact-check, it's what you do," Ingram says.
Ebeli says he's confident that Newsmodo will benefit the next generation of journalists. At least 50 universities have already expressed interest in affiliating with the site, which will give student journalists the opportunity to develop a portfolio and build contacts.
"Given the nature of what's going on, the scaling down of the industry, journalists are going into freelance territory," Ebeli says. "Students are going to be walking into an industry where it's already hard to get full-time employment."
Dan Gillmor, founding director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, applauds the initiative. "We've seen lots of innovation on the journalism side, and we should be cheering the new experiments in business models," he says.
Gillmor adds, "We don't know yet which ones will work, but the fact that people are innovating in this space means that we'll have a more diverse – and therefore sustainable – media ecosystem."