Yahoo! and Reuters recruit citizen journalists

Yahoo!, in partnership with Reuters, is inviting the public to contribute eyewitness photos and videos of news events, in the latest move to turn spectators into on-the-spot journalists.

The Internet media company said it has created a news contribution system called ‘You Witness’ and is working with news and information company Reuters, which will edit and distribute selected photos to other news outlets.

Yahoo! plans to run selected images contributed by users as part of topical packages on Yahoo! News, which currently offers news from dozens of professional news organizations including Associated Press, CNN and Reuters.

With hundreds of millions of camera phones in circulation, consumers are able to take high-quality photos and videos.

The South Asian tsunami, the London Underground bombings and the impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans have showcased the power of people who happen to be in the wrong place at the right time to capture history as it happens.

‘There is already a lot of quality amateur journalism being created by our users,’ said Scott Moore, head of news and information at Yahoo! Media Group. ‘Yahoo! needed a more efficient process for soliciting and publishing user- contributed photos and video.’

While focused initially on news, Yahoo! aims to expand the You Witness system to solicit user contributions for sports, entertainment and other sections of its site, a spokesman for the California-based company said.

Yahoo! and London-based Reuters are working out a plan to compensate contributors when their images are selected for commercial syndication, the two companies said.

‘We are looking at the possibility of creating photo wires and archives to allow people to be compensated for their work and for the images they are able to capture,’ said Chris Ahearn, president of Reuters Media.

Starting today, contributors can submit photos to You Witness via a link off of the main page of Yahoo! News or to Reuters. Yahoo! is weighing when and whether to expand the program to international sites.

Many local and national news organizations invite their readers or viewers to contribute eyewitness news reports.

But media outlets have been wary about how to maintain quality control, avert hoaxes and compensate contributors without fueling a mercenary atmosphere around news events., another top-ranked news site, invites users to volunteer what it calls ‘I-Reports’ – ‘stories seen through your eyes and your lens.’ But it does not pay contributors.

The new undertaking by Yahoo! News, a site with 34 million US readers in October according to comScore Networks data, is more extensive. Yahoo! also owns the photo-sharing site Flickr, where amateur photographers often post photos of breaking news events online.

Video news contributions will eventually be distributed under the current deal, Yahoo! and Reuters officials said.

‘We want to expand the initiative to include text stories, but photos and video were the most obvious way to begin,’ said Moore, who previously was publisher of online magazine Slate.

Reuters already pays the public for images and that will continue, Ahearn said. For example, in 2000, the famous photo of a Concorde plane in flames just ahead of its crash in Paris was purchased by Reuters from a Hungarian plane spotter.

‘We have been seeking to increase the number and range of voices that can be active in our service,’ Ahearn said. ‘This is another step in that direction.’

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