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GroundReport partners with media organizations to promote citizen journalism

Katie Donnelly

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GroundReport is a global news site that "combines digital reporting tools and a selective human network to power the most sophisticated networked journalism coverage on the web."

Launched in 2006 by former U.N. reporter Rachel Sterne, the site publishes original news reports from a global network of contributors. According to Sterne, the network is comprised of 5,000 "mostly professional reporters." These reporters from virtually all corners of the world submit articles, photos and videos to GroundReport’s team of 20-30 editors, who review and approve approximately 75-100 pieces each day. These editors also provide ongoing edits to existing stories in a Wikipedia-like fashion. GroundReport’s trusted partners — including Spot.Us, Global Voices and ProPublica — are able bypass the editorial queue and publish reports immediately.

For more on GroundReport’s recently upgraded editorial policy, check out this video interview with Sterne from Idea Lab’s David Cohn:

GroundReport partners with a host of distribution outlets in order to make their news available to a wider audience, including YouTube, PBS, New York-based public station Channel Thirteen, and the Huffington Post. Some of GroundReport’s revenue comes from these partnerships; it also relies upon advertising. Sterne notes that Ground Report made $75,000 in 2008 and projects $225,000 for 2009— funds that are shared with the site’s contributors, who are paid according to the number of clicks their submissions generate.

Ideally, this means that the highest quality articles generate the most revenue, but in reality, highly trafficked does not always automatically translate to highest quality. This rewards system is somewhat balanced by a community rating tool, which encourages users to rate entries on a five-star scale. Each of GroundReport’s contributors has an overall rating based on the average ratings of his or her entries. GroundReport’s front page features the highest-rated posts, balanced for geographic diversity.

However, there does seem to be some disparity between the highly-rated and the highly-trafficked. For example, on July 3, user Vijaykumar had this five-star rated article on GroundReport’s front page about militants’ bodies that were discovered by the Indian Army in Udhampur. Vijaykumar has posted 420 articles with an average rating of five stars, yet has only earned $9.96 in revenue. In contrast, Madhu R, a four-star rated contributor who writes frequently about celebrities, has earned $107.57 on her 320 articles. While GroundReport strives to be democratic, it is unavoidable that entries on less well-known subjects (and also perhaps articles from less well-known places) are at a distinct disadvantage, even with the front page promotion.

GroundReport has often been contrasted to Global Post, which has a similar mission but a contrasting business model. Instead of relying on hyperlocal citizen-journalists, Global Post pays American correspondents to report from traditionally under-reported areas. Like GroundReport, Global Post relies on online advertising and distribution through partner organizations. However, their business model also includes a third piece: "an elite community on our site through paid membership." While it could be argued that Global Post is much less democratic than Ground Report — as evidenced by their pitch to "elite," paying customers — it is also a much more sophisticated and aesthetically appealing site.

GroundReport also stirs up comparisons to another global citizen-journalism site, Allvoices. Allvoices describes itself as the "first true people’s media," a democratic site that allows anyone to post anything, from anywhere. It doesn’t have the strict editorial standards of Ground Report, but it does include a "credibility meter" on each post. Perhaps the starkest contrast between the two sites is Allvoices’ pride in being "unedited by humans." Instead relying on human editors, Allvoices used computer algorithms to filter out spam and sort of relevance.

GroundReport takes the opposite perspective. According to Rachel Sterne: "GroundReport places enormous emphasis on the value of a trusted human network, and combines this with efficient algorithms. I firmly believe that you will never recreate the newspaper experience with an algorithm, because consuming news and information is such an intensely human — and thus social —experience." The Allvoices community would surely argue differently, and it does seem as though their algorithm-based site is immensely social. However, it also lacks the depth and clarity that comes with GroundReport’s team of human editors.

All three of these sites have carved out places for themselves in the world of public media 2.0, but GroundReport in particular seems to be striking a workable balance between user contribution and editorial oversight. As David Cohn explains, in some ways, GroundReport is "trading speed for accountability." With so many other devices able to ensure speedy delivery of news, it seems like a smart strategy for GroundReport to shift its efforts toward filtering for accuracy. After all, once people catch a breaking tweet about an international event that is unlikely to be covered in mainstream U.S. news, they are going to be seeking out trusted places to go for more information.

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