Now Public now public

Whilst I was at Northern Voice, I had an interesting chat with Michael Tippett about citizen journalism and his site NowPublic, which was then in beta. NowPublic’s remit is simple – marry photos and news stories so that anyone with a digital camera or cameraphone can become a photojournalist.

Once logged in, you can either request photos to go with a story that you’re interested in, add photos to a story someone else has uploaded as an assignment, or just browse the news. Assignments are as diverse as a multi-car pile up or U2 playing a surprise gig at Brooklyn Bridge, and can be voted on by users so that there’s a clear indication to photographers as to which stories are important.

Even though NowPublic is in its infancy, it shows what’s possible when you give people the right tools for collaboration – it’s a clear example of citizen journalists adding depth and detail to stories that were covered either cursorily or not at all by the mainstream media. It’s not that the mainstream media don’t have the skills, it’s that they don’t have the manpower to get photos of everything.

I can see sites like NowPublic changing the way that we take photos too, changing the way we think about what we are doing, what we are involved in. By giving people an outlet for citizen photojournalism, I think we’ll see more people taking photojournalistic pictures rather than just the family snaps or artistic vistas that make up most people’s photo albums. Instead of passing by an incident or event, people will be more likely to stop and document what has happened if they have a community with which to share the resultant imagery.

This existing snaps-and-vistas photographic paradigm is Flickr‘s domain, but although brilliant for sharing photos and serendipitous discovery, it’s not so useful for finding them, particularly if the photo does not have a short, obvious tag attached. Etech05 is easy, yes, but how would you tag/search for photos of a multi-car pile up or the underfunding of the public transport network?

By giving people the ability to upload related photos, NowPublic gives people the opportunity to add their personal experience of the news and create a richer, more vibrant, more relevant news media for all of us.