Archant launches citizen journalism website

Archant has launched a new ‘community news platform’urging readers to submit photos, stories and videos direct to its newsrooms across the UK.

Archant claims that ‘iwitness24’will ‘transform the way it gathers news’and is part of a larger strategy to ‘reinforce its position as a ‘community media business’.”

Information will be uploaded to a standalone website but will also go direct to the relevant news teams across Archant’s 64 local newspapers across the UK.

The announcement comes two weeks after the company announced 14 jobs will be axed at its Suffolk division when it scraps the Saturday edition of the Ipswich Evening Star.

Last April it emerged that up to 20 editorial jobs were to go at its Norfolk division, which publishes the Eastern Daily Press.

Archant said it had teamed up with community news organisation Citizenside to build the iwitness24 platform, which can be used via a PC, iPhone and Android applications.

The project was led by James Foster, editorial director of Archant Norfolk.

He said the project was not about ‘replacing existing content but about adding to our huge mix of reader content – community news exists in every newspaper.

‘This puts it into the digital age and tells our readers we are serious about them.”

He added: ‘For example, our best reader picture of 2011 was of a burning bus. By the time our staff photographer got to the scene, the fire had been put out.

‘Both pictures are great, but the flames made it so much more dramatic and unless we invent a time travel machine, we always risk missing those pictures.”

New platform could offer cash rewards

Forster said readers were ‘eager to share material with us’but that at present ‘we just publish an email address and it’s hit and miss whether anybody sees their content.

‘It’s about getting news and pictures we wouldn’t otherwise get, and also using our readers to send us stuff we would miss.

‘Whether it’s a picture from a community group activity or a fire, we know that by engaging with our audience and telling them how much we value their contributions, we can add to the richness of the material that we produce.”

Archant said that more than 100 people have signed up after just one day and that one picture has prompted an investigation into the state of the rivers in Norwich.

‘A reader sent us a picture of how bad the litter was in the river,’said Foster.

‘We wouldn’t have thought of it, and we were able to harness our news journalists to write the story but the idea was prompted by a reader. It will certainly be an element on the front page.”

A statement released this morning said that a dedicated room for readers had been created at Archant’s Norwich headquarters and that it will soon launch an iwitness24 roadshow.

The platform also includes a ‘social gaming element which means that readers’ contributions are measured and tracked and when they reach certain levels, different rewards are triggered”.

Forster added: ‘We offer a variety of different rewards, It could vary from a substantial cash commission on a scoop picture to asking a regular contributor to join a reader’s panel to meet the editor and shape the future of their title.”

The platform is divided into seven regional sub-communities. A ‘Calls for Witnesses’tool will allow Archant to send geotargetted news alerts to members within 1 km of breaking news events to ask for their help with coverage.

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