Starting today, CNN’s iReport will look more like a social network than a citizen journalism news site. The iReport team hopes these changes will make it easier to identify more go-to contributors, get better content and smooth interactions.
The new version of iReport will begin targeting contributors based on topics that interest them, and the mobile apps will do so based on location. When users sign up for iReport, they’ll be able to choose which topics they want to get updates on and contribute content for — politics, health, travel, food, etc. And they’ll be able to connect with other contributors in ways that they couldn’t before.
“The idea behind groups is that you can tell us early on what kinds of things you might be into so we can go back to you over and over,” Lila King, participation director of CNN Digital and the leader of the iReport team, said in a phone interview. “We’re rebuilding with the idea that iReport can be less about just uploading stories and more about connecting people with stories and other people who matter to them.”
Each iReporter will have a revamped profile page that features information about their recent activity, the content they’ve created and the response it’s received. Users can also earn badges based on their posts and their activity in the comments section of the site.
Each user’s newsfeed will look different, depending on which groups they’re in and which iReporters they choose to follow. Their feed will also feature assignments from the eight CNN Digital staffers who help oversee iReport, which attracts about 2.5 million unique users each month. Previously, the staff would ask anyone and everyone for iReport contributions. Now, they’ll be able to more easily reach target contributors based on their interests and their location.
King said she thinks that tapping into people who are interested in a particular topic could help improve the quality of the content and the speed at which they receive it. If you want user-generated content on a political event in Boston, for instance, it’s a lot easier to solicit content from a group of Bostonians who are interested in politics than it is to blindly ask people for help.
“We publish to the entire community, so we don’t have a good way to target an idea to people who are most interested in it,” King said. “One of the premises of the new iReport is our hunch is that we would get deeper and more meaningful participation if we target calls to actions to people who are affected by a story or who have an interest in it.”
The team of staffers working with the contributors have learned how to make better pitches throughout the years. When iReport first launched five years ago, it asked people to answer the question: “What’s happening where you are?”
“We thought, well that’s not going to do the trick. Immediately, people all over the world are going to start sending these crazy stories about what’s happening where they are,” said Knight, who came up with the question. “How do you even begin to answer that question? There are 1,000 different ways.”
King said that when making pitches, the team tries to be as precise as they can while still allowing room for creativity.
“You want to give people an idea of what to do. So you say, ‘Give me 60 seconds on video of you walking down the street,’ but you don’t tell readers which street or where to hold the camera,” King said. “The other big rule is to be really clear about what it is you’re planning to do with the piece, why you want it and what the potential benefit is for participating.”
There’s value in giving people incentives to contribute. As I reported last year, getting exposure, being edited and having an opportunity for self-expression are all incentives.
As the pitches have improved, so has the content. The first iReport contribution was a photo of a “very hot and exhausted squirrel stretched out on a tree branch.” People still submit this type of content, but as iReport has evolved, so has the content.
Citizen journalists’ contributions are now at the core of how CNN tells most big breaking news stories, King said. Recently, iReport has gotten user-generated photos of the flooding in Bangkok; photos from Penn State following Joe Paterno’s firing; and a video of police “bludgeoning” students who were protesting Paterno’s actions.
iReport has attracted about 955,000 contributors in five years and gets roughly 15,000 contributions from them every month. Staffers use only about 7 percent of the content that comes in, and they vet all the content they use. Staffers follow up with contributors whose content they want to use and ask them how they got their information.
They’ve learned that in talking with their contributors, they can develop trusted sources over time and find ways to keep people coming back. “In a lot of ways it’s part of community building and helping people feel like they’re part of what you’re doing, and feel valued and respected and part of something that’s a little bigger than themselves.”
One of the goals of the new version of iReport is to do a better job of marrying CNN Digital content with iReport’s content, or iReports. Now, iReports will be linked to in various CNN.com stories, and iReport pitches will appear in related CNN.com stories.
King hopes this will make it easier for people to see how they can contribute to iReport.
“The new version is really meant to give you a heads up about which stories we know you could add your voice to,” King said. “Being able to connect people’s stories and experiences is invaluable.”