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YouNewsTV Turns Viewers Into Stringers

Web-upload service encourages “citizen journalism” at the local level 3/02/2007 07:01:00 PM Eastern

User-generated news, until recently the domain of national news organizations, is getting set for its local close-up. Starting this week, television stations owned by Fisher Communications, Journal Broadcast Group and Granite Broadcasting will join the ranks of MSNBC, Reuters and The Weather Channel by inviting “citizen journalists” to produce anything from online news footage to complete reports. The coverage could find its way onto local news broadcasts as well.

Using a turnkey solution from Broadcast Interactive Media (BIM), the station groups plan to roll out user-generated, market-exclusive news services later this month under the umbrella name YouNewsTV. Each group will add the YouNewsTV features to its stations' Websites two at a time.

The question of which stations will be involved and when they will premiere the service is still being hashed out, but YouNewsTV is cleared to launch in more than 30 markets by midyear, including at least three of the top 15.

Visitors to Websites for stations like Fisher's ABC affiliate KOMO Seattle will be invited to register and upload their own news footage, which will then be vetted by BIM and station employees before being made available to the general public.

Videos can also be embedded on external pages like blogs, and, whether on the station Website or elsewhere, will have eight- to 15-second pre-roll advertisements attached. Advertising will be split between local spots sold by stations and national ones from BIM, with revenues divided between the two. Interstitial advertising in longer clips may come later.

“This is a revenue-driving initiative,” says Timur Yarnall, president/CEO of Broadcast Interactive. “If the video is not suitable to have advertising or is copyrighted material, it is not going up.”

The company is keenly aware of trying to protect its clients' news brands, explains Yarnall. “We are not trying to replicate YouTube. The key will be having clear editorial standards and sticking to them.”

Says Rob Dunlop, senior VP of developing media at Fisher, “We believe that video will be the distinguishing characteristic for television sites, and YouNews philosophically meets our view of how users can interact with a traditional television property.” Users relinquish rights to their content with the understanding that it may well be used on-air in traditional broadcasts.

The potential value of citizen journalism first became glaring in 2005 when camera-phone images of the London Underground bombings and the aftermath of the Asian tsunami made front pages around the world. User-generated video went truly mainstream in the U.S. when a camera-phone video of Michael Richards on a racial tirade surfaced on celebrity-gossip site TMZ.com. Since then, news organizations have been trying to figure out how to successfully harness that potential.

“Our hope is that people will send us material that is related to the weather, the news and the community in general,” says Carl Gardner, executive VP of Journal Broadcast Group. “There are also potential applications for events where we might not be able to send a camera, like political events or high school sports games.”

A particularly attractive feature of YouNewsTV's approach is the organization of videos not only into standard categories like weather and sports but also into those that are “hyper-local to each Fisher market,” says Dunlop.

National news companies, tapping into this potential, are looking into using viewers as stringers. Last August, CNN introduced I-Reports to its Website; in December, Yahoo! and Reuters debuted their You Witness News service; and last week, MSNBC added a similar Web tool called FirstPerson. Even The Weather Channel is in on the act, rolling out a user-generated site produced by turnkey outfit Magnify.net in beta a month ago.

YouNewsTV, however, is one of the first concerns to skew exclusively local. It hopes to benefit from the relationships that stations have with viewers, who will be encouraged to tap into their inner Zapruder. Says Yarnall, “The combination of local promotion from stations and the ability to go viral and national is, I think, unique.”

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