Journalists shouldn’t lose their rights in their move to private platforms
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Aug. 20, 2013, 10:11 a.m.

Video content provider Storyhunter.tv to partner with AOL and Yahoo

“We give the context and credibility of professional video journalism,” says its cofounder, “and mix that with the authenticity and originality of crowdsourcing.”

A website meant to connect professional video freelancers to publishers, and publishers with a stream of high quality video content, has announced two media partnerships.

Storyhunter.tv was quietly founded a a little over a year ago by two professional video journalists who felt that by organizing freelancers on the ground around the world, they could actually provide audiences with better, truer, higher quality video news.

Having just completed production of their 100th video and built a network of more than 1,500 professional freelancers around the world, Storyhunter has expanded their relationship with Yahoo — through which they will begin distributing content in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, and Colombia, as well as in the Spanish-speaking U.S. — and signed a revenue partnership with AOL.On, where they will have their own channel.

Alex Ragir, cofounder of Storyhunter and former Bloomberg foreign correspondent, says what they’re selling to these media companies is the pro-sourcing model. Storyhunter vets its journalists for professional standards, and fact-checks and edits their work so the publishers don’t have to, while simultaneously providing them with “bottom-up,” reported video content that aims to tell the story of what’s actually happening, not what editors expect to hear.

“We give the context and credibility of professional video journalism,” says Ragir, “and mix that with the authenticity and originality of crowdsourcing.”

Storyhunter’s emphasis on professional journalism sets it apart from a number of other news video services. Last week, NBC News announced it acquired Stringwire, a platform for broadcasting and sharing user-generated news video. While the folks behind Storyhunter believe citizen journalism plays an important role in the new media landscape, it’s not part of their model. “We have experienced editors from major news companies who ask the tough questions and give that skeptical look and…do the fact checking. This is something that’s often forgotten in citizen journalism,” he says.

In addition to providing fact-checking, Storyhunter has its own editorial staff that works with journalists or teams of journalists on their stories. They’ve developed a “seamless editorial production process,” according to Ragir, that produces high quality news features, documentaries, and investigative pieces at maximum efficiency. That’s a major cost saver for the media companies, and a major selling point for Storyhunter, they argue.

“They’d have to build up an entire editorial staff and spend millions of dollars, and we have the whole system worked out. We’ve been doing this for years and years; we have the network, we’re ready to go whenever they want,” says Ragir.

What’s supposed to make Storyhunter a win-win operation is the quality of the storytelling. Yes, they hold their freelancers to a professional standard — but the real value is in the network of on-the-ground reporters.

“I worked in the mainstream media for a long time, and sometimes the problem that happens is, when you have a targeted audience, you often end up trying to do stories that play off the stereotype that you think the audience holds,” says Ragir. “We wanted to let the story ideas come from the ground up.”

Of course, not all Storyhunter stories are born purely organically — some publisher partners request specific themes, regions, or series. But participants like Israeli filmmaker Yair Moss said the opportunity to work independent of a traditional media outlet is what made Storyhunter a unique opportunity for him.

“Media in general has a very shallow way of showing, giving information about places. Let’s say their interest is showing action, or keeping a certain kind of idea towards a place because they have a specific audience — and by audience I mean advertisers that are giving them money. The fact is that most of these networks, they send Western people to cover non-Western countries, and their people don’t really have an idea about what’s happening.”

Instead, Moss was able to produce a short piece about a former Israeli soldier who protested by wearing full military gear, covering himself in white paint, and wandering through the streets of Jerusalem.

The video was translated into Spanish and distributed via Yahoo Mexico, providing an interior perspective of Israel that, to Moss’s thinking, would be unlikely to have made its way to Mexico any other way. For him, that’s reason enough to keep contributing.

Storyhunters get about $1,000 per story, whether for an individual “one-man band” or shared among a team. Livia Perini, a storyhunter in São Paulo, Brazil, says that, with the pace of editing and standards for the final product, there’s no way someone could make a living off of freelancing via Storyhunter. But there are other perks to getting involved. “It’s not about the money,” she says, “it’s about your story going to different places in the world.”

It’s also about building a community and creating a virtual working space with the resources that freelancers inherently lack. In addition to exhaustive editing, Storyhunter offers regular regional meetups to help freelancers connect with one another. Ragir says the next step is to build a social interface into the website so that journalists can collaborate on projects and swap tips online.

“It can be a very lonely life being a freelancer in remote parts of the world. Besides the editorial guidance and support that we provide, we give them a community and we give them recognition,” says Ragir. “All of our stories give them credit at the end; we want to make them into rock stars.”

Ragir acknowledges that there are other startups out there trying to bridge the gap between content providers and publishers, especially in a moment when they’re starting to realize the kind of money they can make off that content. But he says the level of professionalism and specialization is what sets Storyhunter apart.

“Video is very complicated,” he says. “We don’t do print, we don’t write, this is all we do. That’s why you come to us.”

The new content partnerships suggest that Storyhunter’s founders correctly predicted the demand for video content. But what the system they created fails to address is making freelancing — on the rise, in the increasingly strapped journalism industry — a sustainable lifestyle for professionals. Offering premium content to publishers at a diminished cost fills a need, but it doesn’t buy journalists gear or plane tickets or healthcare.

Still, even professional video journalists like Karl Penhaul, who has freelanced for everyone from CNN to the Boston Globe and Reuters, and now Storyhunter, believe projects like this are beneficial to the integrity and quality of the craft.

“It’s not a cheap way of doing TV, it’s an intimate way of telling a story. A headline comes and goes, but if I tell you an intimate story of one person…then you remember that story,” he says. “It’s so simple and obvious, I think that big, old school media companies have forgotten it.”

POSTED     Aug. 20, 2013, 10:11 a.m.
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