Since launching five years ago, CNN’s iReport has become the gold standard when it comes to traditional media companies utilizing user-generated content. Thousands of videos, photos and stories that began as posts on the site have been featured on CNN’s networks. Today, iReport is making its largest evolution yet with a major relaunch, all in an effort to become a “social network for news.”
“Our hunch is that we could pull in more participation in stories if we create a more personalized experience of iReport,” Lila King, CNN’s participation director, tells TVNewser. “The guiding principle we have been operating by is that we make iReport a bat-signal for participation.”
iReport will still be seeking content from users, and select submissions will still be featured on-air, but at the core of the new site are features that have more in common with social networking sites than news sites:
Users will be prompted to create profile pages (pictured below) that feature a photo, bio, groups and interests. Visitors who create a profile can “follow” other users, as well as CNN personalities, and can earn awards and “badges” for accomplishments. Depending on the interests and location of users, they may be prompted to participate in a story. For example, if a user is interested in politics, they may be asked to watch an upcoming debate and comment on it.
The site will also be getting a new homepage and a video player that brings it up to par with the new player recently launched on CNN.com.
iReport will also be getting a wider presence across the web on CNN.com, CNN sister sites and elsewhere. As an example, King cited a recent effort with Facebook that let users tag photos associated with Veteran’s Day, automatically linking them up with iReport.
To promote the new site, CNN will be lining up guest editors who will edit the new iReport homepage, curating submissions that interest them. The guest editors will be a “mix of CNNers and people who are outside of CNN who have different kinds of expertise and a point of view towards the news,” King says.
Ultimately, the goal is to drive participation and interaction among users. As King notes, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket via their mobile phones, and many have a desire to let their voices be heard.
“As journalists and storytellers I think we are heading to a place where storytelling is a much more collaborative enterprise,” King says. “It is much more than a conversation, it is the actual soup-to-nuts of a story. We are all carrying cameras, we all have something to say, and I think we all increasingly have an expectation to hear our own voices and see our work reflected in the media we watch.”
Of course, as technology makes it easier and easier for ordinary people to contribute video and photos, it puts pressure on some departments within major media companies. On Friday CNN laid off dozens of staffers, including many photojournalists, editors and tape library staffers.
“We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news,” wrote CNN senior VP Jack Womack in a memo to staff. “Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company.”
The new iReport “profile page”: