Archant has launched a community news platform iwitness24 that it says will transform the way it gathers news by allowing readers to contribute pictures and videos.
This material is published on a standalone website – but Archant says it is also a quick and easy way to promote the material into the company's own newspapers and websites.
Archant teamed up with Citizenside to build a platform that makes it easy for readers to connect with their local titles.
It says the technology will allow Archant’s readers to better connect with the group’s 64 local newspapers across the UK and via the iwitness24 site and iPhone and Android applications, readers have already begun sharing geotagged photos, videos and text articles directly with their local newsrooms.
James Foster, editorial director of Archant Norfolk, who led the project, said: “This is about reaching out to our readers and engaging with them directly. We know people are eager to share material with us but at the moment we just publish an email address and it’s hit and miss whether anybody sees their content.
“It’s about getting news and pictures we wouldn’t otherwise get, and also using our readers to send us stuff we would miss. Whether it’s a picture from a community group activity or a fire, we know that by engaging with our audience and telling them how much we value their contributions, we can add to the richness of the material that we produce.
“It’s not about replacing existing content but about adding to our huge mix of reader content – community news exists in every newspaper. This puts it into the digital age and tells our readers our serious we are about them.
“For example, our best reader picture of 2011 was of a burning bus. By the time our staff photographer got to the scene, the fire had been put out. Both pictures are great, but the flames made it so much more dramatic and unless we invent a time travel machine, we always risk missing those pictures.”
The website comes with smartphone apps. More than 100 people have signed up after just one day. And one picture has prompted an investigation after a reader sent in picture of litter dumped in a river in Norwich.
Foster said: “A reader sent us a picture of how bad the litter was in the river. We wouldn’t have thought of it, and we were able to harness our news journalists to write the story but the idea was prompted by a reader. It will certainly be an element on the front page.”
A dedicated room for readers has been created in Archant’s Norwich headquarters and there will shortly be launched an iwitness roadshow to tour the towns and villages to show people how it works.
The platform includes a social gaming element which means that reader’s contributions are measured and tracked and when they reach certain levels, different rewards are triggered.
“We offer a variety of different rewards, It could vary from a substantial cash commission on a scoop picture to asking a regular contributor to join a reader’s panel to meet the editor and shape the future of their title,” said Foster.
The platform is divided into 7 regional sub-communities, and the “Calls for Witnesses” tool allows Archant to send geotargetted news alerts to members within 1 km of breaking news events to ask for their help in coverage. Other features include a one-click sign in with Facebook Connect, and the ability to follow members in the community and see their updates in a Facebook-like activity feed.
Philippe Checinski, co-founder of Citizenside adds, “We are very excited to be launching with Archant as our first partner in the UK. They have really taken the platform and run with it, and we can’t wait to see what new ways they’ll find to get closer to their audience through iwitness24.”
The slogan of iwitness24 is “your news is our news”.
- Archant's announcement comes at a time when it is planning to make a number of staff photographers redundant. (See posted comment below).