Today the Thiel Foundation announced its 2015 fellows, and one of the new fellows already has a launch announcement.
Nineteen-year-old John Meyer is releasing the next generation of his citizen journalism app, Fresco. Formerly in limited beta, the app will now let any user anywhere upload pictures and videos of breaking news events, creating a feed of content that news organizations can pull from. Building on its relationships with news media, Fresco is also announcing that it has partnered with 30 local outlets on a tool that will let news editors commission content from Fresco users.
The Fresco Newsroom Tool features a social dashboard, which lets news organizations download licensed photos and videos of breaking news events from social media streams. It will also let news organizations put out calls for specific content. For instance, if a news organization is tipped off to a car accident or a riot, it can request videos from Fresco users in the immediate area. Media outlets can negotiate exclusivity deals with the photographers and videographers on the scene. Right now, rates roughly translate to $50 for a photo and $100 for a video.
News organizations have been using video and photographs taken by ordinary people for several years now. For instance, many of the police brutality videos that appear on news programs and websites often come from random people who had the wherewithal to record the incident and upload it to YouTube. Citizen-captured videos and photos have also played a vital role in giving a voice to people in areas of the world with severe censorship policies.
However, this kind of content has largely been free for news organizations to use. Most news organizations pull user-uploaded videos off YouTube or Facebook and scan Flickr for photos with creative commons licenses. National news outlet CNN has its own app for encouraging citizen journalism called i-Report.
But Meyer thinks there are limitations to the tools currently available to citizen journalists.
“It wouldn’t occur to you to use [i-Report] daily,” says Meyer. For one, he says, it doesn’t gives users any incentive to upload content from a nearby news scene, and people aren’t likely to think of the app when they do want to document breaking news. Secondly, tools like Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook are dispersed, and as a news editor it’s not always easy to unearth the content you’re looking for.
Because Fresco has a running stream of events that people are documenting, it can even be a tool for finding breaking news. Naturally, Meyer wants Fresco to be the go-to source for consuming news.
“We’re trying to empower anyone to be their own reporter of hard news — that kind of news can be discovered and shared,” he says.
Already Fresco has 20,000 users from its beta. Over time, Meyer plans to rate and verify users based on the content they upload. This will not only help the news organizations they work with, it will also allow vetted users to collect more money from news organizations.
The coveted Thiel Fellowship, created by billionaire Paypal founder Peter Thiel, provides winners with $100,000 to cover living expenses while they work on a startup. Meyer was a finalist in last year’s crop of applicants to the prestigious program, but didn’t make the cut. The former New York University student has drawn lots of attention for building popular iPhone apps like photo app Perfect Shot and flashlight app Just Light while still a student. In total he’s written about 40 apps. He also notably turned down an internship with Apple to pursue his own projects. Last year he dropped out of school to focus full-time on Fresco.