Is the future of digital news collaborative?

We all know the problems inherent in creating digital news packages: reporting from disparate geographic locations not only bloats budgets but hampers the ability to make timely decisions; slow uploads and incompatible file conversions often lead to breakdown in communication and impede the flow of critical information; the absence of a centrally shared space further aggravates an already frustrating approval process.

Yet even in the face of the recent rapid democratization of media, coupled with the lowering price threshold on prosumer technology, a truly collaborative platform for news aggregation, collaboration and distribution has alluded us.

That just may have changed last Wednesday when USC Annenberg announced they would be the first major journalism program in the country to adopt Stroome, a robust collaborative online editing community developed by myself and award-winning journalist and documentarian, Nonny de la Peña.

Undoubtedly, my connection to Stroome as co-founder renders me biased. But there is no doubt that Stroome addresses a real pain in the marketplace.

Mark Cooper, director, Annenberg Digital News, put it this way: “Stroome fills a current, yawning gap and constitute[s] a powerful collaborative tool for university journalism learning labs and publications, for student media, for citizen journalism, for pro-am projects and, naturally, for legacy media moving into more networked new media.”

USC Annenberg is using Stroome in all of these ways: in USC classrooms; on Annenberg TV News; and on Neon Tommy, Annenberg’s digital news site.

But Stroome isn’t just gathering ground in the classroom; it’s finding traction among working journalists as well. Just last week the Tiziano Project, which provides community members in conflict, post-conflict, and underreported regions with the equipment and training necessary to report local stories and improve their lives, announced they’ll use Stroome to create a series of video vignettes bridging war and geography. The first piece—a look at the lives of those living in the streets of Mogadishu and Los Angeles’ skid row—will go into production next week.

So what makes Stroome so attractive at a time when ‘pound-the-pavement’ reporting is rapidly giving way to cloud-based digital journalism?

We believe the answer is that it’s because there’s finally a platform where both working and aspiring journalists can create and publish accurate, contextual news in real time by allowing journalists to share and collaboratively edit content right in the browser, exchange comments through remix or text, and push their finished pieces out to designated sites— from small groups to national news outlets.

This model, in which multiple reporters in disparate locations contributed to a single story, was once only reserved for newsweeklies or news organizations with bureau budgets. With Stroome, now anyone with a camera and point of view can work collectively to break news.

It seems we’re not the only ones who think Stroome is going to play a major role in rejuvenating the relationship between news organizations and their audience.

The Online News Association called our platform “a new paradigm for visual and digital journalism” at their 2009 conference in San Francisco this past fall. Then they turned around and awarded Stroome the Audience Award for best new startup.

And while Stroome is well positioned to capitalize on the moniker bestowed by the ONA, those who diligently follow the online digital space are well aware that Stroome didn’t introduce video editing to the web.

So why will Stroome make it when the others have found themselves face down in the digital revolution’s equivalent of the ‘dead pool’? Again, the answer is innovation— and adaptation.

Early entrants into the online editing market such as EyeSpot, Cuts and Mojiti all built an ecosystem around simple, easy-to-use editing tools. But these sites focused on a simple feature set rather than offering group collaboration tools that enable multiple users to contribute to the creation of a video mix. According to Andrew Lih, author of The Wikipedia Revolution, “Stroome has transformed the existing wiki model by replacing text with video in the equation. The result is the ‘Holy Grail’ in participatory journalism: a cloud- based, new media platform that empowers communities and news gathering operations.”

But don’t count out the satellite trucks just yet.

Nonny and I fervently believe participatory video is the future of visual storytelling on the web, and we are devoted to trying to use the technology to support the idea that content creation can be a communal experience instead of merely a tool for passive viewing. But we also recognize that we are asking our users to work as much through the visual and audio material as through text. This, we realize, will require a significant shift in thinking.

And while we would all agree that there is no singular ‘silver bullet’ that’s going to save the news business and revitalize the journalism all in one fell swoop, we are of the belief that if we all put our heads together we just might find a way to rejuvenate both.

About Tom Grasty

Recently named an "Innovator to Watch" by the USC Stevens Institute for Innovation, Tom Grasty is an entrepreneurial digital and media strategist with a diverse professional background across the entertainment, advertising, public relations and Internet industries and has overseen the development of over 100 hours of film, television, documentary and digital properties. Tom holds a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a MA in Communications Management from the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.