Can Rawporter make crowdsourced video work?

Crowdsourced journalism has had its up and downs over the past few years, with critics ranting about quality issues and evangelists predicting it could be the future of journalism.

A new entry into the market, Charlotte, N.C.-based startup company Rawporter, is trying to create a marketplace where media outlets can buy raw photo and video directly from bloggers, citizen journalists and news enthusiasts. Rawporter launched its initial iPhone app last November and landed several thousand beta testers in its first few months.

“Our goal was to just build the most basic product that we could with as little money as possible and gauge market reaction,” says Kevin Davis who, along with cofounder Rob Gaige, quit his marketing job at Bank of America earlier this year to focus on Rawporter full time after witnessing an auto accident and bystanders shooting video on their smartphones. “We didn’t want to over-engineer something.” Davis admits that those early iterations of Rawporter were buggy at times, but says they’ve spent the last several months polishing the product.

Now, several iterations later, the app is in beta with plans to release the official version soon. In September, they announced $300,000 in seed funding from three institutional investors. Davis says they’re focusing on growth for now and hoping “for a bigger raise down the road.”

Here’s how Rawporter works: when a user shoots photos or video and uploads it to the app, Rawporter automatically stamps it with the time, date and location. Users set the rate at which they’re willing to license the content to media outlets and Rawporter advertises the content and charges media outlets a flat fee of $5 on top of the licensing fee.

While the site boasts plenty of $5 images and $20 videos, Gaige says one user earned five figures for photos of Orlando Bloom, Miranda Kerr and their son shot while the amateur photojournalist was in Bora Bora on his honeymoon. “He snapped five photos and sent them to us and we shopped them around,” explains Gaige. “Because they’re such international stars, we were able to sell them exclusively in Australia and New Zealand and Europe and they’ve cleared $20,000. It’s a great example of someone being at the right place at the right time and working with Rawporter to protect those photos to get the appropriate compensation deserved.”

Unlike other experiments in crowdsourced journalism, Rawporter deals only in raw photos and video, allowing media outlets to incorporate footage of breaking news or celebrities into their own newscasts or webpages and exercise more control over the quality and format  of the finished product.

Craig Stark, associate professor of communications at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pa., sees potential in the crowdsourcing business models. “I think it’s good for freelance people and individuals who aren’t tied into major outlets, and it’s good for students,” he says. Media outlets also benefit from the ability to “give some different perspectives on something when it happens, not just one or two cameras,” he adds.

However, Stark cautions that understanding and enforcing copyright has been problematic for other crowdsourced projects. Gaige and Davis have given the copyright issue some thought and added a “copyright card” to each item so that media outlets have to license the content to use it. “We’re gonna water mark it and let the media know that if they’re interested, you’ve established a price tag,” says Davis.

Gaige says Rawporter is a “win for the media properties, because if there is something really interesting that they want, it’s easy to get. They don’t’ have to track down the owner. The copyright card that adds a level of validation and credibility.”

Although it’s still in the early stages, Rawporter has users in over 50 countries and has had photos published by more than two dozen media properties around the world. Davis declined to say how much revenue the startup has but says, “we’ve been almost entirely dedicated to technology development rather than partnership development at this early stage but we are starting to focus on growth in coming months.” A former MTV and Viacom intern now working on media technology, Davis relocated to New York City to be closer to potential clients and recently found himself live-tweeting the election from NPR’s headquarters as part of its #NPRMeetup, an experience he described as an “amazing and hopefully not a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

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About Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston is a Boston-based freelance writer whose work appears in Bankrate.com, The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, MediaBistro.com, Parade Magazine, and SELF, among other places. She is the author of The Urban Muse Guide to Online Writing Markets and blogs at The Urban Muse.

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