Can Rawporter make crowdsourced video work?

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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.”

Review: Olympus LS-20 sound/video recorder

Olympus LS-20 recorder

I’ve been anxious to try out the Olympus LS-20 digital recorder and was able to borrow one from a friend. It seems like a good reporting tool since having a video record of interviews can be useful when you need to remember how your interview subject reacts to questions or even how they dressed. The LS-20 can also be used for webcasts and website copywriting services.

Of course, most Flip type cameras can do the same basic things as the LS-20 and for a lower price, but this PCM (pulse code modulation) recorder is capable of capturing high quality broadcast-quality sound. It’s really more of a high quality portable sound recorder with video capability tacked on.

I didn’t expect much from the dinky lens that’s about the same size as the one on my BlackBerry Torch. Although, the LS-20 doesn’t compare to my Canon 60D, the Olympus has a lot of manual settings that allow it to beat the quality of most cell phone cameras that I’ve tried. And mounting the lens on top of the recorder can be a discreet way to record a news conference when set on a podium. It definitely won’t intimidate any camera shy interview subjects like a camcorder would.

There are three standard movie modes offered: 1080 at 30fps, 720 at 30 fps and 480 at 30 fps. The LS-20 also has an exposure compensation setting that allows the user to adjust for tricky lighting situations, a surprisingly good range of white balance settings to compensate for different lighting and a somewhat effective stabilization mode that helps to reduce camera shake. There’s even a grainy high ISO mode for shooting in low light and a USB and HDMI out port on the bottom of the recorder if you want to output video off the recorder to a laptop or television.

As expected, the sound quality is good from both the high and low mic sensitivity settings. Olympus has always put decent preamplifiers into its PCM recorders, which is what the recorder uses to boost microphone sound sensitivity. Surprisingly, I found that the low sensitivity mode performed better than the high. Even after bumping up the sound in post production, the noise floor–or hiss–was still quieter on the low mode when using my Sennheiser MD46 dynamic mic. It’s still hissy but usable. My shotgun condenser mic and condenser lav were fairly quiet on either modes but needed a lot of gain to pick up, despite having their own battery power.

The internal mics sounded thin but are fine for reference. They do pick up a lot of handling noise as most digital recorders of this type do. An even bigger problem that I discovered is that Olympus doesn’t offer a windscreen. The exposed mics are thus susceptible to the cracks and pops from breath sounds. Things get worse outside where the wind will turn your recording into an unintelligible thrush of white noise. I didn’t see any aftermarket windscreens online. You can probably DIY something out of foam or adapt the LS10 windscreen.

For the price ($220 new on eBay), the Olympus LS-20 is a nice, compact multimedia package that’s perfect for reporters that want to travel light. It’s a very portable device that’s not much bigger than the Olympus LS-10 that I usually carry for non-broadcast jobs and it uses the same removable SD card memory. I recommend using the LS-20 with a mini tripod like the Zeikos ($1.83 on Amazon) or a small Gorrilapod that allows the camera and mics to be easily positioned.

How to Conduct Interviews On-Camera

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These days, print journalists and freelance writers engage in a variety of multimedia roles. One of the most demanding is video production, which deals with loads of equipment, crews, time and energy. Unlike articles, when a video interview goes badly, you can’t rephrase information or add research to save the final product. You must always get the best out of your subject and raise the profile of your production.

To produce a good on-camera interview, you must prepare properly beforehand. A great interview is informative, entertaining and presented in an appealing manner. It also requires the right person in the right environment, where the interviewee appears comfortable and credible. However, when you need someone to share their input in front of a camera, many things can get it the way. Here are a few techniques to make the process a lot smoother.

Prepare the Interviewee
Before you begin, describe the process to your subject. Demonstrate the filming equipment and explain how filming may stop from time to time to account for unwanted background noise or other environmental factors. Tell them where they need to be positioned and certain segments may be recorded again for editing purposes. Give your subject an overall view of what you are going to discuss doing the interview, but avoid giving them a list of the questions beforehand. You don’t want rehearsed answers, but more spontaneous, natural responses. Let them know that some questions may be repeated.

Set the stage
Interview locations and backgrounds can provide context and reinforce credibility of a source. If a subject is a doctor, film them in their clinic. If they’re a teacher, have them positioned in front of a classroom. Make the setting as interesting as possible. For example, dress up a drab office by organizing the area and repositioning furniture. And if you are filming a subject in an office, don’t trap them behind a desk, but place them in front of it.

Ask and Ask Again
There are subjects that are very articulate, in which case, you’ll have a productive interview. Occasionally though, you’ll come across some sources who are brief in their responses. Yes and no answers don’t edit well in a film interview. And if that’s all you get, the entire footage may be unusable.

When faced with a tough interview subject, redirect or rephrase the questions and keep repeating them again and again. The more times the subject is asked a question, they eventually begin to think about their answers and open up more. Keep repeating questions until you get a genuine response from the interviewee.

Placement
Most people are not very comfortable speaking in front of a camera. Don’t allow your subjects to look into the camera. Focus them answering your questions as if you’re both having a conversation, rather than looking directly into the camera lens. This will ensure they appear credible and cogent on film.

Wrap Up
At the end of interview, ask the subject if they have any final thoughts to add. Thank them for their time and let them know when the finished product can be viewed or made available to them. Make certain if it’s possible to return and do a follow-up in case additional footage may be needed.

Image courtesy of worradmu / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

How Freelance Journalists Can Find Sources Through Better Online Searches

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Nowadays, many journalists and investigative content writers do their research online instead of combing through the stacks at a library. However, the volume of online information makes it tricky to find what you need and filter out resources of questionable credibility. Here is our first Ebyline freelancer education video to highlight  some strategies to help you improve search results and streamline your research.

What are your tips for using online searches effectively? Let us know in the comments!

Ebyline Adds Video Uploading Feature for Multimedia Journalists and Digital Newsrooms

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Today, we have some exciting news at Ebyline.

When we started Ebyline, we spoke with many editors and freelancers who wanted an easy-to-use system to create and to collaborate on content. We call it the virtual newsroom, and today, we are taking our vision of a digitally-integrated, multimedia environment to the next level with a new feature: Video Uploading.

We created this new feature as a response to what we have been hearing from many editors from many different outlets. Few editors, these days, are confined to just the written word. Now, editors are feeling an increased demand for multimedia assets to accompany their stories. Editors are encouraged to imagine a broader scope of each story they assign and to answer the question: how will this story exist online? With Ebyline’s new Video Uploading feature, we have provided a simple, streamlined solution for editors to create a rich online experience. Imagine the possibilities: Breaking news, intimate interviews, audio pieces, Podcasts. These multimedia story-telling opportunities are now within reach.

For freelance journalists and investigative article writers, Video Uploading opens a wide variety of new opportunities. Now that ubiquitous smart phones and Flipcams have made journos into multimedia journalists, our Video Uploading feature allows freelancers to sell video footage through the Ebyline system. Already, you have probably used our photo uploading feature to send images to an editor. Now with our multimedia uploading feature, you can upload a video or an audio file to your editor, allowing for new opportunities to sell your content. Multimedia uploading is another great way Ebyline can make you money.

We are really excited about Video Uploading, and we hope you are too.

-Allen Narcisse, Co-Founder Ebyline

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