What journalists can learn from CNN’s iReport

CNN’s iReport first launched in 2006 as a way to allow people from all around the world to contribute pictures and video of breaking news stories.

According to the website, here’s how the unit’s producers handle submissions from a reported 750,000 registered members:

iReport receives, on average, 500 iReports a day, and a fraction of those are vetted and approved for CNN’s non-user-generated networks and platforms, which involves fact-checking and verifying the details of a story. When a story is approved, the “Not Vetted for CNN” bar disappears and is replaced by a red “CNN iReport” bug that lets the community know a story has been verified.

Daphne Sashin is an iReport producer who says she isn’t sure citizen journalist is the best term for describing their contributors, because that implies those submitting content are deliberately trying to document the news.

“Most of the time it’s people sharing what they know or they’ve been a witness to news or they’ve had something happen to them, but that doesn’t make them journalists,” Sashin said.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 6.51.39 PMStill, the content has become an important part of the CNN organization’s news strategy.  Recently, Sashin says iReport has been running a lot more personal essays and some have been hugely successful when it comes to driving Web traffic.  She points to a story written by a college student who shared an account of studying abroad in India and experiencing repeated sexual harassment.  The story has driven more than 1.1 million views in a little less than a month.

“First person stories do amazingly well – better than reported stories,” Sashin said.

Now, the iReport team is thinking about how they can replicate that success.

“We’ve looked at using this approach to cover a story.  For example, rather than having someone interview five people about Anthony Weiner’s transgressions, we might find a woman whose husband cheated who might be willing to share that story and write the piece,” said Sashin.  “We’ve also thought about doing an ‘as told to’ to story — it would be in the first person, but for someone who isn’t a writer, that might be the best way to do it, though we haven’t tried that, yet.”

Sashin also says that that photo galleries do really well on the site and she thinks that the future will bring more opportunities to talk with people live on the scene of breaking news stories — “citizen journalists doing live streaming” is the way she describes it.

So, what’s the primary goal of an iReport producer?

“My job is looking for stories that people want to read and share,” Sashin said.