Rob Gaige and Kevin Davis were having a drink at Dandelion Market in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a car crashed into the restaurant next door.
“We saw a number of people recording the excitement on their smartphones,” Davis said, “but noticed the news crew arrived after the scene cleared.”
Gaige and Davis watched the news that night, expecting to see some amateur footage, but the media only delivered the aftermath of the accident. It reminded them of the time US Airways flight 1549 crashed into New York’s Hudson River and the first person to report the news was a bystander, not a journalist.
That’s when Gaige, who used to work in consumer marketing for AOL and Nestle, and Davis, who has worked in TV and radio as well as sales and marketing, came up with the idea for Rawporter, a free iPhone app for citizen journalists.
The app consists of enhanced camera software that helps people capture photos or videos of breaking news and delivers the material to a shared online platform, where media outlets can opt to buy it.
The iPhone app, which will soon expand to the Android market, launched its beta version in November 2011, with the help of Davis and Gaige’s tech-savvy third partner, Michael Robinson, who is a technologist with expertise in data compression and information architecture.
Though only 1,000 people have downloaded it so far, the three partners hope that many more will be drawn to Rawporter and its catchy motto: Get news. Get famous. Get paid.
Of course, Rawporter isn’t the only citizen journalism platform out there. There’s Meporter, an app that helps amateur journos “report on hyperlocal news that is directly relevant and important to you and those around you.” CNN’s iReport encourages the public to send in pictures and videos of breaking news through iReport’s website. They lure people not with money, but with promises of potential televised glory: “Share your story about one of these topics in the news and it may end up on CNN!” Another similar service is Citizenside, which has a smartphone app as well. Citizenside’s goal is to create “the largest online community of amateur and independent reporters.”
Gaige and Davis believe people will choose Rawporter over these similar services because, in addition to those who call themselves citizen journalists, their product “appeals to everyday people who are in the right place at the right time.”
“Our focus is less on producing polished or packaged news,” Davis said. He explained that the intention is to get the raw images to the pros, who can then use the material to enhance their work.
Rawporter is easy to use. Its main screen opens to a camera, with options to shoot still photos or switch to video mode. There is a reversible camera option and a flash function. (It actually doesn’t really differ from the iPhone’s camera software.) Yet Rawporter will soon include training tips to help their users improve their submission quality.
A small button on the bottom of Rawporter’s app links a user back to the menu, where he or she can see if media companies are sending out assignments in the user’s neighborhood.
“It’s still very new, but we are preparing to enable the [assignment] functionality shortly,” Davis said. “Anyone in need of video or photo content can tell our users exactly what they are looking for and how much they are willing to pay.”
If a Rawporter user does happen to capture anything interesting, he or she can upload the material to Rawporter’s website using the app’s “Submit” button. The app will ask the user to rate the “newsworthiness” of their material and will ask them to set their privacy to one of two choices: “Make me famous” or “Anonymous.” If a user chooses “Make me famous,” then the material is attributed to him or her. A user may also choose to simultaneously send their material to Facebook or Twitter.
Rawporter isn’t selling its users’ images quite yet, but Gaige and Davis plan to price the material in a $5-$20 range. Gaige and Davis said important and/or exclusive material could command higher fees.
The Rawporter website provides an online platform where media companies, or whoever is interested, can opt to buy the images. The site uses various tactics to ensure that the content is purchased rather than stolen. “The images online are a lower resolution, unless a media company buys them, then they’re upgraded to a better resolution,” Gaige said. The images are also watermarked with the Rawporter logo.
The app is in a bare-bones stage right now, but that will soon change. A system update will be released in the near future, with location functions, more sharing options and capability to shoot multiple items in succession. Other future possibilities include sending basic questions from journalists to citizens through the “assignments” feature.
“It opens up a world of opportunity for large and small media partners, including bloggers, who wouldn’t normally be able to conduct an in-person interview due to budget, timing and access limitations,” Davis said.
Of course, the app is only useful if people start using it.