A perfect storm of a deteriorating economy, “citizen journalists,” increasingly good quality miniature cameras and the Internet has formed to propel Cell Journalist, a Nashville start-up, to sign up a number of major media outlets in a short time.
Cell Journalist has created a technology platform that allows media outlets — TV stations, newspapers and Web sites — to accept and process content from anyone with cell phones (iPhones and Blackberries included), digital cameras or video camcorders. The outlet can then immediately use the content on the air or online.
Since last October, Cell Journalist and its mobile video content services have grown 100 percent. It was born the day after the London bombings in July 2005. Founded by entrepreneurs Parker and Colin Polidor, the company has evolved into a process for any media outlet seeking images and videos of breaking news, weather and community events from its audience.
Nine stations owned by Raycom Media just signed on, including WMC-TV, in Memphis TN; WAFF-TV, in Huntsville, AL; WECT-TV, in Wilmington, NC; WMBR-TV, in Myrtle Beach-Florence, SC; KSLA-TV, in Shreveport, LA; WAFB-TV, in Baton Rouge, LA; KPLC-TV, in Lake Charles, LA; WTOL-TV, in Toledo, OH; and WTVM-TV, in Columbus, GA.
Like the story of so many legendary electronic newsgathering innovations, the technology for Cell Journalist came of age during a hurricane. KPLC-TV implemented the platform shortly before Hurricane Ike hit the Louisiana and Texas coasts Sept. 12 and 13, 2008. During the 24-hour period in which the hurricane came ashore, the NBC affiliate serving a community of approximately 71,000 residents received more than 2500 images and videos that allowed station viewers to participate in and witness the disaster as it unfolded.
The station’s Web site normally receives just less than a half million page views in an entire month. Suddenly, with the Cell Journalist contributions, it experienced 1.1 million page views during the weekend the hurricane hit the area. By the end of the first week after the hurricane, the number of hits had increased to more than 2 million.
Jim Sera, general manager of KPLC-TV, said the Cell Journalist service, branded on his station as “KPLC ViewerNet,” has — after two back-to-back hurricanes — emerged as an important part of his newsgathering efforts. “We invited our viewers to become part of our coverage, and they responded,” he said. “The seemingly endless stream of pictures and videos was compelling and at times breathtaking. The stories our viewers captured and narrated provided a depth of citizen journalism we could once only dream of integrating into our air and Web news product.”
Cell Journalist uses a Web site that allows users to upload photos and videos. In some cases, like with Apple’s iPhone, the company provides simple-to-use preconfigured branded applications, such as with Tennessee’s KnoxNews.com.
A Cell Journalist ad system integration feature allows any media outlet to monetize the uploaded media. The platform includes positions for banner ads, preroll or flash overlay video ads, as well as content sponsorships.
With different levels of content management, the media outlet can quickly adapt to different news events. Cell Journalist provides a range of control features, from auto-approval for trusted senders to complete content moderation.
The company also provides community-building tools — such as rating, commenting, tagging and sharing — to enable consumer interaction. RSS feeds and embedded codes encourage usage of the content, strengthen the online brand and gets advertising seen.
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