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Rachel Sterne Shares the Wealth

Question: Has GroundReport found a viable business model?

Rachel Sterne: We're in the midst of our biggest information revolution probably since the printing press and yet we're seeing a total breakdown of how the media is going to be able to cover these events. I think that efforts that focus on hyper local news gathering and citizen reporting are going to be moving in to the space. I think they really need to learn from the lessons of vetting and news gathering and holding, holding all reporters to high standards that we can learn from the traditional media, so I think that there is a middle ground there definitely, what, I think the best thing that platforms and efforts like GroundReport has to offer is we show what can be achieved when you really cut cost, when you really removed all of the bloat and you're able to just get rid of the overhead and focus on people who are already there. So we have an incredibly lean, efficient, economical model that way that in fact is paying for itself right now and we hope to just scale that up and I think that if we can begin to build models that start with taking advantage of the incredible resources of millions of people around the world with all this power, we can start to build a model that will make sense.

Question: How does GroundReport share revenue?

Rachel Sterne: I think the GroundReport revenue share system in many ways is modeled on the way that microfinance works and that is we're rewarding people based on the fruits of their labor and hopefully they can invest that further and often people will, or contributors will write to me and say, you know, "I got this funding, I was able to get you know, a better mobile phone or I was able to get a better computer and now, we're going to create better reports" and they are very, very passionate about it. So it's something that, it's that important on so many different levels and not even just in the developing world, people are so amazed to be paid for their work especially since the rule online is so often that sites expect you to just give your, the content that you're creating for them for free while they build a business model off of it. We didn't think that was really fair. We also thought the best way to attract the people who are creating the best content online which is a very, very small percentage of the people who are engaging online is to reward them for what they are doing.

Question: What media innovations are you following?

Rachel Sterne: I think it's certainly true that when you're looking at the digital format, we have just begun to explore its potential. I mean, we're still sort of recreating newspapers on websites and that's, that's not really what it's built for. I think a couple of the biggest areas for innovation are again, Twitter which allows for the most immediate fast pace real time news updates. It's a tool that I use all the time and GroundReport to stay in the loop on what the most recent breaking news is. You can often get updates there before you can get on any major news website but also to recruit reporters who happen to be at those locations, it allows for really fast interactions and iterations there. On the flipside, there's no vetting and there's no filtering of that sort in terms of integrity especially when you're dealing resource you don't know and Twitter. So that's one problem. The other space is when you start to get into these new forms of media. so we've already seen some really great innovation with photos and photography online, I think where there's some of the next steps will be with live streaming video, GroundReport TV launched its channel a couple of years ago actually on the Windows Mobile platform and it allows us to basically cover live events with video, using just an internet connection and a laptop as well as say, a huge Fox satellite truck that cost you know hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars and that's what we did this past weekend at the NASA shuttle launch for instance.

The thing that we have to wait for there is for the 3G network that's necessary for all of our mobile devices to be able to send information that quickly and it's also still a technology that is limited to people who have access to the internet in general. So those are a couple of the places but when you look at things like the Nokia N95 and later models which can allow you to stream videos straight from your phone to a website, it's pretty incredible what the potential of that could be for a citizen-powered 24/7 news channel.

Question: What new directions is GroundReport taking?

Rachel Sterne: Well, we certainly want to serve what people are really interested in. And clearly the global news category is much smaller than people who are interested in sort of you know, entertainment news but that's also a very, very crowded field. I mean, there are millions of players in that field that are trying to exploit that. It's something that with the write tone, we would accept on GroundReport but we're pretty focused on making, just building up our brand. I mean starting any kind of Internet company, it's so difficult to define what you are looking for. In the beginning on GroundReport anything was allowed. People could post any kind of content and after a while it just, it started to dissolve what the brand was really about. So we need to stand behind that and say, okay we're about sophisticated global reporting from professionals or vetted by professionals or some combination of the two. What we are starting to do is to expand into specific verticals. So we might not do entertainment just yet but we might do something related to gender issues or we might start to do something related to travel and this also has to do with some of the sponsors who are interested in getting involved with our work and we're definitely going in those directions and we're looking to be a little bit more niche, a little bit more granular in those spaces, but still keep our general structure.

Recorded on: June 12, 2009


Unlike many of its competitors, GroundReport is paying for itself.

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