Leonard Brody, founder of NowPublic, rejects the term "citizen journalism," which has often been applied to his business. "What [our contributors] do is not journalism. We don't call it that and never have." In spite of that, he did construct NowPublic to serve as a new kind of media site. His initial goal, he said, was, "Let's go build Reuters 2.0."
NowPublic is a site about current events, and it is powered by its users. Brody feels that, "Journalism is an art form. What we are is an army of eyes and ears." So Brody's army of contributors aren't known for creating original reporting in the way we usually think about it. "The fantasy of the 300 word post doesn't exist." Rather, his contributors perform two other functions.
First, they're an army of ants, but with cameraphones, uStream and YouTube links, and Twitter accounts. At the moment, the NowPublic contributors add, literally, alternate perspectives to typical news reports.
It's in this area where the most interesting new NowPublic features are coming. Brody said that his company is working on real-time analytics capabilities, so NowPublic will be able to automatically group input from various users into hubs on developing stories. Brody says NowPublic also soon be monitoring Twitter feeds and mapping items about particular current events into the hubs (which NowPublic calls "hives"). Furthermore, the software will allow readers to talk to users on the scene (via Twitter, presumably, but perhaps more directly, via SMS or voice) and ask them questions about what's happening.
"The feedback loop is getting more intense," says Brody.
Second, the NowPublic contributors act as aggregators and editors, similar in some ways to the Digg crowd. Users, not generally beholden to any given mainstream media sites, are free to pull items from all over the Web, adding their own spin on content, putting opposing views together, and so on. They are becoming the DJs of news, and that's a valuable service. To make that function even more valuable, NowPublic recently added to its reputation and ranking system, so NowPublic readers can now more easily find and follow contributors that they relate to.
Where does this leave traditonal media, according to Brody? "Five years from now, you're going to see these live networks like NowPublic, Twitter, and CoverItLive completely supersede today's media. Traditional media will focus on analysis."
The media world has seen this transition before, and more than once. In recent memory, the newsweeklies (Time, Newsweek, etc.) found their traditional role of providing the news killed by television, and eventually the Web. But they've managed to refocus on the post-story analysis and also on the hugely expensive art of investigative journalism.
I that that it's important to not think of NowPublic as a direct replacement for traditional news, though. While the proportion of on-the-spot news media gathered by "users" that is seen by the public may surpass "professional" content, as an old-line journalist myself I prefer to think of this army of reporters as customers, not competitors. The growth of crowd-sourced news content allows those people who've made it their career to study and communicate on news topics to do more study, and more communicating.
There's likely money in this model, too. NowPublic, currently pre-revenue, will soon start selling local advertising on its service. It also has business-to-business aspiration: It will offer a white-label version of the product to existing media outlets (all content will be shared back to the NowPublic service) as well as locked-down corporate versions that could be used for people in a distributed business, like a franchise, to keep tabs on what's going on in the company.