The end of news as we know it?

Turi Munthe, CEO of Demotix, was in Beirut this week to promote a new model for the declining news business. With newspapers all over the world cutting down on staff, Demotix proposes to tap the underexploited wealth of citizen journalism and help get it into the mainstream media.
BEIRUT, December 5, 2008 (MENASSAT) — "There are no reporters anymore, anywhere," Turi Munthe told a group of students and journalists at the American University of Beirut (AUB) this week. "Investigative journalism is dead, and it's the age of what we call Churnism—taking the same old stuff, putting it in same old pot and stirring it up, only using a few sources."

Munthe was in Beirut to promote "Demotix, The Street Wire"—a service that is being promoted as a platform for non-traditional journalists to have their work published in the mainstream media. It was officially launched this week in a Beta version. (An Arabic version is planned for next year.)

Munthe refers to his brand of news as "citizen journalism, done by street journalists." Anyone who, for example, attends a protest in Egypt, and takes video or photos, can end up having their work published in mainstream media outlets all over the world and be paid for it. At least, that is the plan.

Demotix was founded in response to what Munthe calls the "death of news."

The Mumbai attacks are one recent example of citizen journalists
beating the mainstream media at their own game. © Demotix

Munthe explains that most outlets are now run like businesses; media outlets are cutting their staff, and the first ones to go are the foreign reporters. In 2007, there were only 141 U.S. foreign correspondents in print and broadcast media, and there are currently only four newspapers that maintain foreign bureaus (The York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the LA Times).  The number might become three, as the L.A Times is cutting one-quarter of their staff. In the UK, The Independent is cutting more than 60% of its staff, including 60 reporters. And the effect of the financial crisis is only making matters worse.

So with less and less journalists, "How do media outlets fill their broadcasts?" Munthe asks. They turn to the wire services, mainly AP and Reuters, and end up reproducing the story as everybody else.

With Demotix, Munthe wants to fill this information gap by tapping into the worldwide community of bloggers and freelance journalists. They will produce the content—only photos initially with text and video to follow–and Demotix will then try and sell it to the mainstream media.

Demotix will play the part of the middle man with six-full time staff members and six full-time interns. Any sales will be split fifty-fifty between Demotix and the contributor.

Munthe, who is English-French-Swedish raised in London, went from being a publisher to a journalist to working with the Royal United Service Institution in the UK. At his last job, he worked on preventing the radicalization of terrorism, and he sees a role there for Demotix too.

"There are two ways of battling terrorism—the more aggressive approach, such as sanctions and bombs, and the civil society approach." A service like Demotix can help, he feels, "by taking the lid off the pressure cooker."

In order to protect contributors living under repressive regimes, Demotix has taken precautions to protect people's identities where necessary. Any image taken with a digital camera or phone is full of metadata that can be used to trace its author. Demotix will remove these metadata before uploading the images to the site. It can also scrambles IP addresses using the Tor system, which bounces communications around a network of relays run by volunteers all around the world.

Ultimately, Munthe says, Demotix is about promoting freedom of speech worldwide. "But by getting our stuff in the mainstream media we make sure that it doesn't just stay in people's heads."

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