Dispatch From Italy: Citizen Journalism and YouReporter Making Waves

Did you know that in Italy, to be a practicing journalist, you take exams and get certified? That’s what my Roman friend, a senior digital editor at one of the country’s largest publishing groups told me over lunch this week during my Italian holiday. It’s like being a lawyer, or an architect. And while the practice of certifying journos still stands, even over here where traditions are hard to break, the industry has been disrupted.

Italy is still a country in which practicing independent journalism is a political, and not just entrepreneurial, act. And still, YouReporter.it, a crowd sourced, video sharing news platform is widely used. Launched in 2008, the site has expanded with an app for both Android and iOS, and a text based news blog. Lots of “mainstream” news publishing organizations use videos or photos from the site, and all they have to do is use the logo and attribute the view to YouReporter.

When co-founder Angelo Cimarosti and his colleagues, Luca Bauccio and Stefano De Nicolo, started thinking about the site in 2006, bandwidth in Italy was weak, and hard to find. Smartphones had yet to saturate the market. So they started with a focus on photos, in addition to video. In fact, Cimarosti told me over the phone that when the earthquake in l’Aquilia hit in 2008, hundreds of photos were uploaded to the site; had it been just video based, YouReporter would have never gotten off the ground.

“You can start small,” Cimarosti told me over the phone. (All translations are mine)

“The success of YouReporter is about the small things, especially in a country like Italy, made up of small towns. People already have an outlet for the big news events — an earthquake, a cruise ship crash, even a big snow storm. What YouReporter users share and want to know about are the small things — suspended trash pick-up, the traffic sign on the corner that needs to be replaced.”

Already the site calculates that on a ‘big’ news day, maybe 1,000 videos are uploaded. On a slow one, that number drops to the hundreds, and maybe one million visitors, which for them is a good day. The site isn’t curated by anyone – it’s just the algorithms. They don’t even really correct spelling mistakes.

“But if something is ‘fake’ or very wrong, the users and the algorithms fix it. It’s like any other networked community,” Cimarosti says.  In the future, when revenue sharing models become less complicated and easier to work with, Cimarosti  hopes to bring that to the platform, too.

“But right now, the users aren’t looking for 50 euro every time the national newspaper uses a video on their site — it’s about sharing the news and getting the news,” he says.

Cimarosti has written a newly released book called Te La Do Io La Notizia! (I’ll give you the news!) about citizen journalism in Italy and the lessons learned through the launch and growth of YouReporter. He has a list of rules for citizen journalists. Here’s a few of them:

– Shoot horizontally, and stay away from zooming in. “Do you see the BBC or CNN zooming in? Very rarely.”

-Keep it short. Never go over three or four minutes.

– Keep the editing simple.

-And of course, the mantra of all journalists everywhere: Better filmed poorly than not filled at all.

If you can make out simple Italian or care about what’s going across the pond, you can follow Cimarosti at @YouReporter.