Now I get Demotix

October 20 2010

There are around 300,000 iimages in the Demotix library.

There’s lot of debate about what Demotix does. Is it the news-gathering model for the future, or is it undermining traditional income streams for journalists? I’ve been a big fan for a while, even if I’ve never contributed anything yet.

If you haven’t come across it before, Demotix is a portal for anyone, anywhere to upload pictures and stories (but mainly pictures) and share their news with the world. Demotix isn’t just an information heavy Facebook or Twitter, though, it’s a professional news service, staffed by experienced photographers and writers, with thousands of independent, full time journalists on their books. Every story and image passes through the hands of at least two editors, is fact checked and then marketed to news organisations around the world.

The ultimate aim is to become a news agency for freelance stringers. By being more inclusive, agile and cheaper than PA or Reuters, the founders believe, they can get better content, and more of it, in front of desk editors and at the same time become a pretty powerful global community news site off their own back.

I’ve often looked at Demotix and thought about uploading stuff, you know, just to see if it works, and never quite got round to it. As much as I applaud their endeavour, I can’t shake the feeling in the back of my head that I’d probably never get paid and wouldn’t I be better touting a feature round editors I know.

Last night I went along to a Demotix-sponsored evening at The Frontline Club, and it’s really changed my mind. Apart from the fact that Demotix is clearly A Good Thing to get involved with and support, even if you don’t get paid for it, there are three things that stood out.

– They may be best known for hard news stories, like getting information out of Iran during the elections last year or covering the current Kyrgyz crisis after all the other reporters have gone home, but it’s off the beat features that sell best. Which is good, because that’s more or less what I do. As Steve, a publisher there, put it: “Everyone’s chasing the main news stories and you’re competing with photographers and journalists on staff. With features, there are hundreds of smaller publications who might be interested in the background to an event”.

– They’re global. They have connections with news media in virtually every country. This was the thing I hadn’t really thought about. Their cut is quite steep – 50% for any stories or images sold – but they aren’t just selling to one place or country, in the way a single freelance operator usually is.

– They’re going to be huge. They aren’t just an agency. There’s talk of expanding the written feature side of the site and even – eventually – running ads, so that more people can get paid.

What last night – and meeting the founders – convinced me is that this isn’t just another social media experiment or an occasionally successful portal for ‘citizen journalism’. It’s a viable business model that you’d be stupid not to get involved with, if you can. At some point in the not too distant, I’m going to be rummaging through my archives for good stories that didn’t quite make it to print for one reason or another. I’d encourage anyone else to do the same.

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