NowPublic NowFunded

I was the first person to blog about the launch of Michael Tippett’s participatory news network, NowPublic, which marries news stories from the media and public with “crowd-sourced” media such as photos and videos. I saw Michael demo NowPublic last February at the fabulous Northern Voice conference in Vancouver. Over a year later, just a few weeks ago, Michael, Kevin and I met up at a conference in London and had a really nice evening talking about everything, almost except NowPublic.

I’m delighted to announce that NowPublic has raised a healthy US$1.4 million in angel financing, lead by Brightspark Ventures. Congratulations to co-founders Michael, Leonard Brody and Michael Meyers and all the angels involved.

NowPublic met with early success when U2 played a ‘secret’ gig in New York. The photos posted on the site were fantastic – a realtime record of a gig posted without the aid of paid photographers or the traditional media. As an event of national and international interest to U2 fans, it was a bit of a no-brainer for people who were there to take and post photographs.

Since then, NowPublic has become one of the fastest growing news networks, with (and here I quote from the press release) “over 15,000 reporters in 130 countries and over 2 million unique visits a month. During Hurricane Katrina, NowPublic had more reporters in the affected area than most news organizations have on their entire staff.”

But what is news? We frequently thing of news as being events that have national or international importance, but much more news happens at a local or hyperlocal level and these are the types of events that we are less likely to share because they don’t ‘seem like news’ to us. We also tend to think of ‘news’ as being the same as ‘current events’, but in actual fact it spreads far wider than that, into technology, science, sports and beyond.

This is where NowPublic has huge potential – to be a repository of hyperlocal and focused news that is defined not by the sections in your newspaper or the packages on the 1 o’clock bulletin, but by the people who are involved or who witness what happened. We can make our own news – we just have to remember that what we are experiencing is newsworthy.

I myself have contributed to the site a paltry once, when I reported on a “five alarm” fire in San Francisco last July that happened just a few blocks away from where I was staying. I could have contributed more often, and one missed opportunity in particular springs to mind.

Kevin and I were walking to Holborn station in London, only to find that area sealed off. To find a tube station shut is not that big of a deal in London, but the fact that the surrounding roads were sealed off and the place was swarming with police was much more unusual. Had I had any presence of mind, (or a decent cameraphone), I would have taken some snaps, posted them on NowPublic and asked if anyone knew what had happened. Something patently had, but the traditional news outlets didn’t cover it, and the London Underground site never even mentioned the closure of the station. Yet there was news there – I could smell it. My curiosity nearly killed me.

But much participatory media happens at the behest of an authoritative source – XYZMediaCo requests photos of a specific event, or a news anchor invites people to text or email in questions. Under some circumstances – such as the London bombings or the Buncefield fire, the media can be inundated with images and reportage. But we, the public, frequently forget that smaller events are news too, and retraining us to think more critically about what is news is a hefty challenge I am sure that Michael will relish.

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