The internet has impacted just about every facet of our lives and it’s likely only getting started.
The advent of the contextual web or internet 3.0 is likely to have profoundly reaching repercussions on our ways of life, our world and the way we get our news about it.
To talk about the subject, I caught up with a participating disrupter, Turi Munthe. He is the founder and CEO of Demotix; a multiple-awardwinning open newswire. Demotix connects freelance reporters, photo journalists and video makers, as well as amateurs and activists, with the global media. Demotix was reportedly established to do two things: 1/ Promote freedom of speech, political participation and civil society 2/ Change the way news is sourced and reported.
This is a 2 part interview, part 2 can be found here.
Turi pegs himself as English-French-Swedish, reports to have lived in the US, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Nepal, Spain and France, and to be able to speak Italian, French, Spanish and Arabic.
Your name means?
I was named after the first Sami anthropologist, Johan Turi – Turi means ‘Traveller’. Problem is, it means massacre in French (tuerie), Conservative in the UK (Tory), and in Nepali it’s an obscenity.
Hot scones, with thick Devonshire cream and strawberry jam. That and Ghanaian fufu…
The old city of Aleppo – until recently. God only knows what they’re living through now.
UK and France by passport, Italy by marriage.
Journalism to you is…?
Storytelling…and I like George Orwell’s line too: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.”
Politics to you means…?
Who gets the aisle seat…
The web for you is…?
Oh it’s everything. By which I mean news, wikipedia and porn.
Your favorite comic as a child was Asterix, the indomitable Gaul and his village resisting 50 BC Roman occupation. 325 million copies sold worldwide and half a century of publication are no small achievement. How, if at all, do you think Asterix shaped your views of the world and how you came about building Demotix?
People say the bad guys have the fun, they’re wrong. The little guys have all the fun. The underdog is the ultimate romantic hero. That’s what start-ups are in the business world: romantic heroes…
You said a couple years ago: “We want to become the ‘AP’ of freelancers, only bigger, deeper, quicker, more local and more global, and a lot more democratic”. How far have you gotten in reaching that goal today? What’s left to overcome?
You gotta love hubris…one of the problems of the total memory of the web, is that what comes back to bite you in the ass is often a former incarnation of yourself. But… Demotix, which launched in 2009, now has 30,000+ contributors in pretty much every corner of the world, uploading 100+ stories and 1,500+ images every day. And those are local stories by local people: Californians in San Francisco, Colombians in Bogota, Palestinians in Ramallah, Thais in Bangkok.
More importantly, we sell that work all over the world. We distribute in 50+ countries with a combined sales network over 200 people strong, shipping hundreds of thousands of dollars per year back to local journalists all over the world.
We have a way to go (we want to really break into the US this year: so join up!), but a lot to be proud of.
You had also mentioned 3 enablers to citizen journalism: accidental news, censorship and collaboration. Are they still the same or have they evolved? Lack of skills was the sole disabler at the time, did new ones creep up?
At the time, I meant that citizen journalism could really add value in those three ways:
- when something happens and they are the only people there to cover it (think plane in the Hudson)
- when censorship means professional journalists are barred from covering the news
- when citizen journalists could be relied upon and used by professional journalists
I think citizen journalism (or ‘witnessing’) today is the absolute norm at a basic level (which news organisations do not use camera-phone footage or images?). It is everywhere. And which news journalists do not rely on a now global army of witnesses or citizen reporters to corroborate their stories or help them get the scoop?
What we predicted would happen – a total symbiosis between pro journalists and the army of witnesses previously known as the audience – has happened.
You’ve been known to favor the “underbelly” as the gold when it comes to producing relevant news. Is that still the case? How do you think the social web helps in that context?
Absolutely. From the get-go, Demotix decided to chase news from what we ironically called RoW (“Rest of World”- everywhere that isn’t the US or EU). There are enough journalists in London. But when was the last time you read a story about Chad, say, or Laos? So yes, we did go after that ‘underbelly’, and we cover it well. Now however, we’re also pushing hard into the US, because we realise there are a lot of stories left uncovered there, as well. There’s “underbelly” in the US, too…
Many are touting, and I believe so myself, that we are entering a “post-social” world. Do you agree?
Demotix has always been ‘post-social’. Miles Davis reinvented jazz after the frenzy of be-bop. He’s supposed to have said: “why play all the notes when you can just play the beautiful ones?”
We don’t need a gigantic network of millions of people to send in their images and videos. We need the good ones.
That’s a great way to look at it Turi! It loops back to the “nichework” concept long touted as the next step in for the social web. Now that everyone is on Facebook and fatigue is taking hold, more people are looking to get involved in very particular subjects that of interest to them. I look forward, in part 2, to your wisdom on the use @Demotix makes of new media, what’s new with the project and where it’s going.