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Will this man change the face of journalism forever?

by LLB Editor
4th Apr 12 8:42 pm

The way news breaks has changed and you’re the person behind it. Blottr’s Adam Baker is pioneering citizen journalism. Is this how the future of media will look?

Follow me: @shrutitripathi6 and @LondonLovesBiz

The last two decades have seen a radical shift in journalism. Events such as the 9/11 attacks and the London bombings turned passers-by into journalists.

Those in the right place at the the right time, armed with a camera phone and access to the internet, gave birth to citizen journalism: a revolutionary phenomenon of our age.

But with this came unreliable accounts from scaremongers. After all, why would people trust content from unknown sources and not the credible journalists they’re used to reading?

Adam Baker, founder of the citizen journalism website Blottr, seems to have cracked the code of making citizen journalism work – not only as a viable source of news – but also as a viable business.

From celebrity razzmatazz to high-octane news stories, Blottr is a people-powered news service that enables anyone to report news as it happens.

The website gets 2.3 million unique visitors a month, has raised £1m from MyVoucherCodes.com founder Mark Pearson, and was the first in Europe to break the story of Gadaffi’s capture.

So with Blottr breaking news at the speed of light, should mainstream media be scared? I spoke to Baker to learn more…

Q: How did it start?

“It all started with 9/11. I was shocked that it took CNN close to eight minutes to report the attacks, whereas there were hundreds of people right there at the scene clicking pictures and making videos with no outlet to publish their footage.

“Add to this the pay walls that media organisations were putting in place, and the constant bad news about journalists getting fired, really frustrated me as a consumer.

“So, I thought this is a huge opportunity to give people a platform and make citizen journalism work.”

Q: What did you do after you got the idea?

“We launched in August 2010 and started to build an appetite for people to come and write news stories. What really worked for Blottr is that in the first six months of our launch there were poignant news stories like the Breivik bomb in Norway, Gaddafi’s assassination and the student protests. People wanted to write about these events.

“Blottr gave such people a platform to publish their stories and that’s how we started getting a lot of exclusive news. In fact, we were the first ones in Europe to break the story of Gadaffi’s capture.

“Also, last year when the London riots broke out, we were the first ones to break the story about the unrests in Woolwich and Ealing.

“We beat mainstream media by a number of hours, with a lot of news stories which built credibility and made the site really sticky.”

Q: So what’s your business model like?

“Our main revenue stream is ad-driven and we’re selling our white label product called Newspoint, which basically lets other brands create their own micro-Blottrs on their own websites.

“We’ve started monetising the site this January and we’re looking at turning over £1m this year.

“We’re getting pitched to by venture capitalists but I think it’s too early for us really, we have got a lot of work to do and a long way to go.”

Screenshot of blottr

Q: How many employees do you have?

“We’re based in Tower Bridge and have eight employees who manage all our editions in London, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Leicester and Manchester.”

Q: What’s the traffic figures of the website and how much of money do you spend on marketing?

“We get close to 2.3 million unique visitors per month. We’ve never really had to spend any money on marketing, 99.9 per cent of our marketing is free.

“Where we’ve invested is just extremely effective SEO [search engine optimisation] which draws people to the site. SEO has been the single most important factor to get people to the website, because even if you have great content, if no one’s reading it, it’s a waste really.

“I’d say 60 per cent of our traffic is search-driven and 40 per cent comes from people logging in through social media.”

Q: But why on earth would someone submit breaking news to Blottr and not the BBC?

“There are a number of reasons. If you send a story to the BBC, by the time it passes all the hoops of verification and authentication, the story will be stale and old. With Blottr the story is published instantly.

“In addition to this, what attracts people to the website is the assurance that if they write a story on Blottr, it will get published.

“Also, we pay some of our regular contributors a £1 for every 1000 page views their story gets.

“A combo of all these factors have made people embrace Blottr and recognise it as their first point of call for reading breaking news.”

Q: Fair enough, but how do you check the authenticity of the news people submit?

“We have a people authentication algorithm which attributes influence to the author by checking how long they’ve been writing articles, how much negative feedback they’ve got, and how many times other people have contributed to their news story.

“The other is a content algorithm which checks who is the originator of the story, how many words it has, how many times it’s been shared on Facebook and Twitter or been bookmarked, and whether it’s got PR or a spam hook to it.

“In addition to this, we’ve got editors constantly scouring all the content that goes on the website to check and re-check facts. So, it would be right to say that that we know the DNA of our contributors.”

Q: So you’re saying you’ve never got it wrong?

“In the 18 months we’ve been live, we’ve made an error just once which we corrected within minutes of the article being published.

“I can enumerate a number of occasions when the mainstream media has got it wrong. Only recently, we’ve seen mistakes around the Leveson enquiry. Sky News announced that Amanda Knox was guilty of Meredith Kercher’s murder when she was acquitted, the list goes on. So, if we’ve gone wrong once, I think it’s not too bad.”

Blottr team at work

Q: Would you say you’re competing with the mainstream media?

“Yes and no really. What the mainstream media provides is good analysis and news. We are more about breaking news and we let people set the agenda.

“We’re constantly in dialogue with the mainstream media, but on a lot of occasions we’re the first ones to break the story – the BBC or Sky News publish it afterwards with a link
to our website.

“Are we asking people to make a choice between us and them? No, we’re not. Having said that, we know they’d end up coming to us anyway because we’ve published the story first.

“In effect, what we’ve managed to do is change the notion that if the mainstream media isn’t covering a news story, it’s not news. All of this gives us a slight advantage over the mainstream media.”

Q: Which stories do you predict will be big in the coming months?

“I think we’ll see stories about security issues during the Olympics. Privacy and hacking stories will also be bubbling, while the possibility of Iran going to war will also be talked about.”

Q: What are your future plans?

“Our vision is to fundamentally change the way news is gathered and reported. We’re exploring a lot of options to set shop up in countries outside of Europe. Also, mobile is definitely the way it’s going so we’re going to tap in to that.”

Thanks for your time Adam! Best of luck to you and the Blottr team.

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