Last week, CNN sacked over 50 staffers, many of them camera-lugging photojournalists, in part because it will lean more heavily on its citizen journalism outfit iReport for more, better content. With Monday's relaunch of iReport as a "social network for news," CNN's strategy of shifting various tasks from its paid journalists to the five-year-old network of iReporters is coming into focus. We doubt that CNN will soon replace news anchors with holograms any time soon, but the network is trending towards giving its citizen journalists more assignments, surfacing more of their content on TV and generally making iReport content more of an editorial fixture. And feature-by-feature, there's little doubt that CNN wants the new iReport to be a money-saver as well as a scoop factory.
Social Networking Basics
Like Current TV did years ago, CNN is inviting readers to set up profile pages packed with personal details. Like Twitter, you can follow other iReporters, CNN reporters and interest-based groups, and like Facebook, a newsfeed provides a stream of updates. Like Foursquare, the profiles can be tricked out with badges awarded for being an active iReporter. It's to keep people coming back, says CNN's participation director Lila King. "The new version is really meant to give you a heads up about which stories we know you could add your voice to," King told the Poynter Institute. The cynical way of reading King's quote would suggest that CNN producers are tapping these citizen journalists for content instead of paid reporters, but the iReport network has a long ways to go. Poynter says that iReport attracts 15,000 contributions a month, 7 percent of which staffers use, but that's still only about 35 contributions a day.
As you probably guessed, all of the new personal information that iReporters use to fill out their profiles serves as CNN's heads up for the kind of content you might be willing to contribute. Based on who you follow, the groups you join and your basic contact information, CNN producers will have a better idea of who to call when a news story needs an iReporter's perspective. In the past, CNN's iReport team would simply ask everyone for contributions and cherry pick the best of them to be featured on TV, but now they can put targeted assignments directly into iReporters' newsfeeds. "Our hunch is that we could pull in more participation in stories if we create a more personalized experience of iReport," King told TVNewser. The devoted Assignment Desk section of the site, offers reporting tutorials as well as invitations to join on-going projects like Occupy coverage and something called "iReport's European Vacation." The assignments all offer CNN producers' contact information and invite iReporters to get in touch if they want to participate.
In addition to photojournalists, CNN also laid off a number of tape room workers that were partially responsible for pulling useful footage for broadcast. With a new "Explore" tab, it appears that the iReport network could pick up some of the slack. CNN offers half a dozen different ways to sort content being uploaded to the site, including searching by location, by tag, by comment volume and by view count. Each video invites users to vote for the clip if it "Belongs on CNN," "Needs Some Work" or "Is Inappropriate." The videos are also arranged by assignment groups and the most active iReporters. A minute spent browsing shows that indeed there are a lot of videos on iReport, thousands of pages of them, but for every sweet video of a rare astronomical phenomenon, there are about 20 of people talking to a webcam in a bedroom. So even if a few journalists are out of work with CNN's move towards a more social, more robust citizen journalism platform, we're sure the network doesn't plan on throwing all of it's professional journalists out the door any time soon.