Ireport's SXSW buzz is big news for citizen journalists

CNN and its five-year-old iReport citizen journalism initiative emerged as a surprising winner at the recent 2011 South by Southwest Interactive conference.

In the news

CNN and its five-year-old iReport citizen journalism initiative emerged as a surprising winner at the recent 2011 South by Southwest Interactive conference. The broadcaster touted new platforms for accessing citizen videos and said it would soon aggregate iReport content next to stories from CNN staff journalists and contributors on its website.

Why does it matter?

While initial interest in citizen journalism quickly died down, iReport has quietly become a major success story for CNN.

Lila King, participation director of CNN.com, notes there are now 750,000 registered iReporters, adding, "We look closely at all this activity to help us decide what we really need to focus on and integrate into our own news."

She says iReport initially also attracted interest from the communications industry, observing, "We began to see a proliferation of video press releases on iReport from PR pros, but the community did not respond, so there was really no pickup."

But Jennifer Martin, CNN's senior director for digital PR, says PR can still play a key role, citing one iReporter who was contacted by publicists and then interviewed director James Cameron. "We bring the power of CNN behind them," she says. "The iReports have our stamp of approval."

Samantha Steinwinder, CEO of Seattle-based Concept Communications, notes the rise of video citizen journalism in some ways mirrors the rise of blogging, but could have a larger impact simply because visuals can be so compelling.

"The fact that many iReporters are citizens doesn't matter - they're all reporting on the most important news of the day and PR pros must keep track of them," she adds. "At the very least, you need crisis plans for handling potentially embarrassing 'gotcha' videos from citizen journalists."

Key facts

1 In December 2010, CNN received a citizen video from the Pacific island nation of Nauru, meaning every country has provided at least one iReport

2 CNN's use of citizen journalists in Japan for videos helped lead to a 400% spike in ratings to 2.2 million viewers during the first day of the recent disaster

3 Not content to just focus on breaking news, CNN had five iReporters on site covering South by Southwest

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