A startup is hoping to combine two hot web trends, crowd sourcing and microearning, into a single savior for cash-strapped, broadcast newsrooms.

Rawporter, an iPhone app that will soon be rolled out for Android, turns almost anyone into a local news cameraman or camerawoman. Instead of dispatching a camera crew to a fire during rush hour and risk they won't get there until after the flame is out, a television news reporter can create an assignment from Rawporter's Web interface and send it to anyone with the app who may be in the area of the fire.


The service already has a semi-endorsement from Janis Krums, the Staten Island ferry passenger who became a celebrated citizen journalist for taking his iconic "Miracle on the Hudson" photo. In a promotional video, Krums says if a service like Rawporter had existed in 2009, he may have gotten fairly compensated for his photo.

Speaking at Columbia University's social media weekend in New York on Saturday, Rawporter co-founder Rob Gaige said the assignment feature allows producers to tell photographers how much they'll be paid. Photo and video journalists retain rights to the work they create using the app and can share it with their followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

"Our job is to make your job easier," Gaige told conference attendees, most of whom were journalists, and many of whom were not buying assertions that Rawporter would not threaten their already tenuous job security.

Even an instructional video on Rawporter's Web site notes that traditional news crews are "too costly and too slow for today's news market" and that viewers don't want to see "a reporter talking about the aftermath" when they can watch an event as it unfolds.

The app itself is relatively straightforward to use.It feels a lot like Instagram, except it also offers push notifications from news outlets looking for content. I've been using it since Saturday and, so far, no assignments have been tossed my way but, then again, as far as I know I have not been in the vicinity of any newsworthy events.

For producers looking to fill a sudden news hole, there's not a lot of user-generated content to choose from just yet (aside from videos shot at the conference where Gaige was speakinbg, the most recent video is from a Jan. 23 vigil following the death of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno).

Rawporter just launched in November, so it may take awhile for accidental journalists to discover the site, and for producers to figure out if they're breaking union contracts by outsourcing camera work for $10 or $25 a clip.