Agents for all

Scoopt wants to represent citizen journalists when they witness and record and event and want to sell their images to big media for big bucks. B&C writes about it today. A reporter from elsewhere asked me about it; his story didn’t appear when I thought it would, so here’s what I said about the notion of Scoopt.

I’m not sure this will work because I think we are seeing a culture shift in the ethics of news, from the proprietary to the shared, from closed to open.

I am all for citizen journalists making a buck (having made a few as a journalist myself). But…

I wonder whether there’s a conflict between the inherently open and immediate world of citizens’ media and the closed, exclusive-addicted world of big media: Will citizen journalists decide not to share what they see so they can sell an exclusive to a paper or TV show? If they share their material online first, doesn’t that lower the value of what they’re selling to media, because it’s no longer exclusive.

But then one needs to wonder whether the age of the exclusive is over, now that we live in a world where every witness can be a reporter. That affects not only the citizen journalist — because while you’re trying to negotiate a high price for your images, the next guy with the camera phone is ready to sell his — but also the professional journalist, who now finds that his eyewitnesses are his competitors. The internet is a scarcity killer: Online, there is always somebody else who can tell the story, somebody else who can publish the story.

Note that in the London bombings, the Guardian, the BBC, and other outlets asked for people to send them images — free — and they did. Many of these became iconic images of the event. Now if people hold back those images in hopes of selling them, they lose their immediacy and thus some of their value.

I think that in major news events, the ethic of the web will prevail: People will share what they know.


One place where money will be spent by big media is for pictures of celebrities taken by citizen paparazzi. A good shot of a kanoodling couple of stars on the beach will always be a scoop worth paying for.

  • All witnesses can be reporters…I think the key here is "witness". If many people witness and take photos the value is low. If you are the only witness with photos, the value is high. Isn't that the way it's always been, the internet doesn't change that formula at all. It's just that more people carry cameras where it used to be just the pros so there is now a better chance that there will be more than one or two sources.

  • Jeff

    I’m not keen on this notion of citizen journalist. I think that most bloggers are witnesses, not journalists. If I blog about something I encountered, like the Ann Arbor Art Fair, am I really reporting on it? I don’t have an art background, nor do I know much about the city’s retail or politics. It’s just, I saw this, I saw that. Here are my photos.

    “All witnesses can be reporters…”, “citizen journalists”, well, maybe we can all be citizens, expressing our concerns for our society, and we can all be witnesses, sharing what we see, and then journalism, well, dead maybe?