SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A year-old website, inspired by the use of Twitter and Internet media reporting out of Iran, hopes to become the go-to forum for citizen journalists everywhere as traditional media pulls back.
Allvoices.com, a fledgling social networking-cum-news aggregator site launched in 2008, uses algorithms to help it sort news from around the world in a manner akin to what Google Inc does.
Its twist is that it encourages and enables anyone to be a reporter and uses an in-house system to rate would-be journalists on popularity and credibility.
“The barriers are gone. The communications between citizens are free. Trying to inhibit conversations is not going to work,” said Erik Sundelof, co-founder and vice president of social media for the fledgling site.
Twitter underscored how the lines were blurring between traditional and new media when it carried citizen views and news from Iran, even as the government stifled other media. The U.S. State Department has publicly acknowledged its importance as a communications tool.
Blogs and websites from Youtube to Twitter have mushroomed over the past decade, increasingly offering the public a channel through which to report and offer views on the news. A growing crop of sites, such as iBrattleboro.com or OhmyNews in South Korea, cater specifically to would-be journalists.
Allvoices’s founders point to a dwindling number of accredited foreign correspondents as traditional outlets cut costs to combat increasingly elusive advertising revenue.
“How are you going to go out there and cover every single community?” asks Aki Hashimi, chief marketing officer.
Allvoices itself hosts a share of posted videos from Iran, including some that show cars burning and what appear to be demonstrations. Quantcast says Allvoices monthly traffic is running to more than 3 million unique users, more than two-thirds of them outside the United States.
The company says they have 33,000 separate “landing” pages for countries, cities and other special categories — each with its own following. People can file to the sites from computers, or even by sending text messages from mobile phones.
Allvoices, which is operating on $4.5 million in funding from Vantage Point Venture Partners, has started paying its most popular reporters. They can earn anywhere from 25 cents to $2 per thousand page views.
Contributors are free to post almost anything. Credibility is rated by people who read postings and by the in-house algorithm, which is designed to help measure postings against traditional media and other sources.
But throwing the site open to the public has its pitfalls. One recent post with a high credibility rating said the Ark of The Covenant was about to be unveiled. Other stories cite no sources, anathema in traditional journalism.
Sundelof said he had not looked at the Ark posting, but the in-house computer evaluation depends on feedback from many users and there had not been enough feedback on that piece. Allvoices does not practice gatekeeping.
“We haven’t worked out how to deal with these kinds of situations,” he said. “Basically, we can only determine credibility based on the input we have.”
Sundelof said a posting that starts as a rumor can evolve as more voices join and the rumor is verified or killed.
Susan Rasky, a senior lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, was unfamiliar with Allvoices, but said many sites she had seen experimenting with citizen reporting had a place.
“We have to acknowledge that there are voices outside we need to use as sources,” Rasky added.
Reporting by David Lawsky; editing by Edwin Chan and Andre Grenon