The future of journalism, as Rawporter sees it, will include armies of regular people selling raw video footage to outlets who can't get a crew to breaking news events.

But, based on a test of Rawporter's iOS app Tuesday, the future of journalism is going to have to wait. And the test also provides a case study in why rushing an app out the door may not be the best business strategy: I'm frustrated after using it for a couple of hours as a correspondent. But think about how the news outlet that tried to contact me last night to purchase my footage and couldn't get it in time for their evening broadcast feels.

Rawporter is built on the idea that almost anyone can become a local news cameraman or camerawoman. Instead of dispatching a camera crew to a fire during rush hour and risk their not getting there until after the flame is out, a television news producer 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.

How Rawporter Is Supposed To Work

When I first heard about Rawporter at Columbia University's Social Media Weekend last month, I left the room wondering "Why didn't I think of that?" It was one of those ideas that was so simple, yet so brilliant:

  1. People like me download the app, which I previously described as looking and feeling a lot like Instagram, only with an emphasis on video instead of photos.
  2. I load my contact info into a profile and begin shooting video, which is uploaded to the Rawporter Web site and can be browsed by news outlets.
  3. In addition to purchasing footage I shoot on my own, news outlets can send assignments via push notifications to people with the app, based on their GPS coordinates: "We're getting reports of a fire near where Rawporter says you are. Do you have time to run by and shoot two minites of footage? We'll pay up to $25."
  4. I get to retain the rights to my footage, meaning I can tweet it out, resell it or post it on my own site.
  5. The news station avoids the expense of sending out a crew and gets to bring viewers more footage of more events.


How Rawporter Actually Worked When I Tried It Out

The app looks good but, in use, it was clunky, not all that intuitive and, when I tried to use it to cover a march against hate at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts, it simply didn't work. To be fair, Rawporter is brand new, and an update to their iOS app is waiting for final approval so it can be sold on iTunes.

And they also get points for trying to offer potential fixes via Twitter as soon as I started tweeting about my frustration using the app.

Tuesday's event was to show support for a student who was allegedly attacked on campus after writing an opinion piece supporting gay marriage in the college newspaper, of which I am the adviser. I attended the rally, which my students were covering, and decided I'd use Rawporter to shoot some video of the event, which drew widespread, regional media coverage.

I shot video of the six minute speech by the university's president to open the rally and the nine-minute speech by the victim's father, who is also a professor at the school, at the end of the rally. Rawporter told me the six-minute clip was saved successfully, but when I checked on the Web site the only thing that got uploaded was a one-second test clip (with the description I had written for the longer clip).

And the nine-minute clip? It was completely eaten. I later found it in the standard video camera of my iPhone, but I could not find any way to move it back into Rawporter so it would be available for viewing.

But that's only where the frustrations started. Other major flaws:

  • When I started to realize I was having trouble, I tried to update my Rawporter profile with my phone number so if any news outlets did want footage, they may be able to contact me. Every time I tried, however, I got an error message when I saved it. I was able to update the profile when I got online, but, 16 hours later, those changes still aren't showing up when I access my profile through the app.
  • At 4:30 or so yesterday afternoon I got a push notification saying a news outlet - I still don't know who - was willing to pay me $25 for the speech I shot. But when I logged into the app, and then the Web site, there was no record of the new outlet making such an offer and no way of responding.

Rawporter is a brilliant idea, and you can see companion apps popping up for writers and professional photographers looking to sell work and field assignments. But it's a poorly-executed idea. The company has an uphill battle, convincing clients that using the service is worth the effort of finding ways around the tight union contracts for camera crews that are in place at many broadcast news outlets. A poorly-designed app that frustrates even the most technically-inclined potential user is not going to make that sales pitch any easier.