Michael Weiss was the only Israeli attendee at the OhmyNews forum last year – now he’s one of three. He tells us that, at this rate, the official language of the forum will be Hebrew in a few years.
Weiss certaintly took good notes at the forum last year, and has used this information to launch Israel’s first citizen journalism site, scoop.co.il. Israel’s an interesting place to launch online media – 3.6m of 7 million citizens are daily internet users – 70% use broadband, and 60% read online news on a daily basis. These readers usually triangulate their news coverage, reading 2-3 different sites a day to get different perspectives. Readers report they trust online news more than other channels.
In founding Scoop, Weiss saw some troubling questions: Were they too early? Too late? Would people want to read what “regular” people had to say? Would they be squashed by competition from large newspapers? And how much editorial influence should they have?
This last question is an interesting one – rather than moving towards a low editorial control model like Wikinews, they decided to use a heavy editorial model, like Ohmynews, “with Israeli improvement”…
To recruit reporters, Scoop looked for succesful bloggers, people with strong writing skills and lots of comments – then they recruited them via personal emails. They worked hard on PR, and recruited 250 writers when they launched last December. Writers are promised the chance to build skills, to gain a reputation online, and are rewarded via an incentive system: write ten articles and you get a t-shirt. For 25, a webcam, for 50 a night in a hotel or a digital camera – hit 100, and you win a subscription to an Israeli daily paper, worth about $300. There’s no other financial incentive. But there is a strong sense of community, a closed bulletin board system for citizen journalists – a “reporters’ zone”.
Scoop now has 800 writers, who are chosen quite carefully – they need to fill a detailed registration, then get a phonecall to confirm their identity. As an author, you can write only two stories a day – “more than that, and you are unemployed, or probably lousy.” And editors check stories
The service supports comments, which are not edited – readers can report comments that are potentially offensive. So far, they’ve only removed two. And readers can vote on stories, helping promote them to the front page, where the six top stories are listed.
In the future, Scoop is planning “ScoopTV”, the ability for people to post short video commentaries. They’re offering polls, petitions and a way for people to build rankings, not just of their favorite stories, but of most and least favorite politicans, sports teams, etc. And Scoop is trying to begin Scoop International, inviting people from around the world to submit stories that will get read by an Israeli audience, an interesting opportunity for dialog across national borders.
An interesting question was put to Weiss – can Palestinians write for Scoop? They can, he tells us, but none have chosen to. There are Arab reporters, and “a full spectrum of Israeli society”, but Palestinians haven’t chosen to join, perhaps because they’re not comfortable writing for a site that’s so consciously and proudly Israeli.
While Scoop is taking off very quickly, backed by venture capital funds and expanding quickly, flix.dk has grown much more slowly and carefully. Started in 2003 by Erik Larsen as an open, experimental site, flix.dk provides citizen’s media in Denmark. It’s a “bonsai” version of OhmyNews, inspired by an article Larsen read in Wired Magazine on the Korean site. Run from a home computer in Larsen’s apartment, it began with three writers and has expanded slowly, so far without funding, revenue or advertising, though Larsen is now considering adding ads so the site can expand.
The goal of flix is to provide an alternative news outlet, something Larsen feels is lacking in Denmark. There are three major newspapers, one recently bought by a British conglomerate, and the other two (a left and a right-leaning paper) which now have joint management. A new Icelandic-run paper plans to distribute free newspapers to every household. But Larsen worries that there’s a race to the bottom in these papers, sensationalizing news in the process. flix tries not to compete purely on a news level, focusing instead on high-quality writing of all sorts.
An early success story came in covering “the Keld-Bach case”, where a Danish blogger was threatened with legal action for posting a link to a link to the copyright-infringing Grey Album. The threat was illegal under Danish law, and by reporting the story, it became a major national issue, and the law firm eventually apologized to the blogger on national radio.
A report on graffiti in Copenhagen ended up generating a huge number of pageviews. Evidently it was picked up by other graffiti communities in Iceland, Canada and the US – Larsen sees this as a lesson that you’ll never know where your audience will come from.
Another story makes him less comfortable – a Somali musician was prevented from playing a concert by an Islamic group opposed to public music performance. He wrote a story for flix in English, which Larsen translated and posted. He worries that this may have increased anti-Muslim sentiment in Denmark, which he sees as a major problem. (Commenting on the notorious Danish cartoons, he interprets them as an obvious provocation, and a result of Islamophobia in Denmark.)
Larsen believes that OhmyNews has been more succesful than flix in part due to a difference in national character. Individualstic Danes are more likely to start their own websites than to contribute to a group blog. South Korea may have more of a sense of community, and less of a sense of competition.