Profile: NowPublic.com

Web news firm gets cash boost

Headshot of Mathew Ingram

 

NowPublic.com,
a leading "citizen journalism" site based in Vancouver, announced today
that it has closed a $10.6-million (U.S.) round of financing from
venture capital groups in the U.S. and Canada, after turning down
several offers to acquire the company outright.

The financing arrangement is one of the largest such deals involving
a citizen-journalism service, a group that includes the popular South
Korean-based site Oh My News, U.S.-based Newsvine.com, and
NewAssignment.net, which is run by New York University journalism
professor Jay Rosen.

The financing came from New York-based Rho Ventures – along with its
Canadian affiliate, which is based in Montreal – as well as Canadian
venture groups Brightspark and GrowthWorks Capital, both of which were
early investors in NowPublic.

Co-founder and CEO Leonard Brody said in an interview that two major
media entities expressed interest in buying the Vancouver company over
the past couple of months, but he and his partners felt that they
should remain independent.

"We got quite a bit of acquisition interest over the past month or
two," Mr. Brody said, from what the NowPublic CEO referred to only as
"large media companies." Both are based in countries outside of North
America, he said.

"But we made a decision that we felt we could grow this thing, and that it was just too early [to be acquired]," Mr. Brody said.

"We are big believers in what we are doing … and that is building
the largest news agency in the world. We are laser-focused on that
goal."

The NowPublic CEO said that he and the rest of the team believe "we are building a billion-dollar company."

Members of NowPublic – founded by Michael Tippett, Mr. Brody and
Michael Meyers in 2005 – contribute eyewitness news reports, photos and
video clips of events that occur around the world.

The company says it now has more than 100,000 "reporters" in 140
countries and almost 4,000 cities who have filed about everything from
hurricane Katrina and the grounding of a ferry in Alaska to a shooting
in downtown Vancouver. Just over a year ago, the service had about
13,000 members.

In one of the most recent examples of NowPublic reporting, Mr. Brody
said a man who was close to the oil pipe that ruptured on a street in
Burnaby videotaped the oil geyser and posted it to NowPublic, and later
sold the footage to Associated Press.

NowPublic, which has an existing content-sharing arrangement with
Associated Press, also announced that it is expanding that
relationship. The previous deal allowed AP bureaus outside of the U.S.
to use NowPublic content, and that arrangement has been expanded to
include all of AP’s U.S. bureaus as well.

The Vancouver company, whose chairman is veteran newsman and former
MSNBC executive Merrill Brown, said NowPublic’s 20,000 members in
hurricane-prone areas will be helping Associated Press cover extreme
weather events, among other things.

Earlier this year, a photograph submitted by a NowPublic member
based in Oman was bought from him by AP and later used on the front
page of Yahoo’s news site, as well as being picked up by The New York
Times, Forbes and The Guardian.

Mr. Brody said that the service plans to use the money that has been
invested for a number of things, including expanding its technology and
making it easier to post news tips and photos from mobile devices. The
NowPublic CEO said the company is also looking at ways of compensating
members for their services.

The site will also be announcing a number of partnerships over the coming months, Mr. Brody said.

NowPublic, which started in a Vancouver garage, now has 20 paid
employees, with offices in Vancouver and New York. The site also has
employees in Germany, Hungary and Slovenia.

Not all citizen-journalism sites have been as successful as
NowPublic. A venture called Backfence, which tried to apply the
citizen-journalism model to several local U.S. markets and received
venture financing from several prominent funds, announced recently that
it was closing.

"That was a sad day for citizen journalism," Mr. Brody said. "They
were pioneers. But they had a very different model than we do. They
were focused on hyper-local news, and we are really global."

Jay Rosen’s NewAssignment.net, meanwhile, has formed a joint venture
called Off The Bus with the popular news website The Huffington Post,
in which "citizen reporters" will file news updates about events on the
U.S. election campaign trail.

Mr. Brody said that he and NowPublic chairman Mr. Brown know Mr.
Rosen well, and that the two companies may work together on a citizen
journalism project at some point in the future.

 

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