Monday, August 08, 2011
Top five: iReports that defined year one

Editor's note: iReport, CNN's citizen journalism initiative, is celebrating its fifth birthday this month. To mark the occasion, we're taking a look at some of iReport's shining moments in a series of top five posts on a variety of topics. Today, original iReport team member Tyson Wheatley takes a look at some of the moments that made iReport what it is today.

 

The original Team iReport! From left: Robert Felker, Tyson Wheatley, Catherine Andrews, Lila King, and Karyn Lu.

 

Year one for CNN iReport began five years ago, on August 2, 2006, as a simple webpage inviting CNN's global audience to share breaking news. It was, in many ways, an experiment. We had many supporters within CNN, but there were others who questioned the wisdom of inviting so-called citizen journalists into our professional world. There were four of us manning the iReport desk on day one – all borrowed from different parts of CNN. I'm proud to say I was one of them.

 

Our tiny but feisty team encountered many challenges and milestones that first year - each a powerful learning lesson. Here are five moments that defined year one:

 

The death of Steve Irwin: The news of '"Croc Hunter" Steve Irwin's accidental death on September 4, 2006, drew incredible interest from CNN.com readers. The question was raised whether we should invite our audience to share iReports. Yes! But what should we ask? We didn't realize that the answer was already waiting for us.

 

You see, back then, iReports weren't public like they are now. They landed in a database that only CNN producers could see. Without being prompted by CNN, iReporters were already filling up our database with emotional tributes to Irwin. There were photos from people who had met him, and others had seen his live show at the Australia Zoo. There were videos of children dressed as "The Croc Hunter" for Halloween, and about a dozen from imitators who captured live animals in their backyards. One of our favorites: A simple hand-drawn picture of a teary-eyed crocodile from 11-year-old Matthew Cheek.

 

We learned that day that we needed to listen carefully to our audience. iReports were clearly more than just breaking news. They were also about letting our audience be a part of the stories they cared about most.

 

Quake strikes Hawaii: On October 15, 2006, a 6.7-magnitude earthquake and numerous aftershocks struck the west part of Hawaii's Big Island. Many parts of the state were without electricity, including some of CNN's local affiliates. As a result, iReport images - like Erin Baldwin Brown's picture of a damaged historic church in Kohala - were among the first available until Hawaii's TV stations could spring into action.

 

Why was this significant? Images and information are vital in breaking news, and iReports helped carry our network for about six critical hours of coverage. For producers still questioning the value of citizen journalism, this was a wake-up call.

 

Survival stories: As part of a CNN.com special report called "Saving Your Life," hundreds of cancer survivors used iReport to share their stories of sacrifice and physical suffering as well as strength and determination. Mike Koprowski, who survived testicular cancer at age 22, was among the many iReporters whose words and pictures show us what cancer truly is, beyond the statistics.

 

Lesson learned: More often than not, it's the deeply personal connection iReporters have with the stories they share that make them so interesting. Over the years, iReporters have continued to enhance CNN's ability to tackle complex themes by sharing their most personal experiences, memories and life-changing events with us.

 

Virginia Tech: Jamal Albarghouti's grainy cell phone video offered the only known scenes of the drama unfolding early in the morning of April 16, 2007, when a gunman went on a rampage on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and faculty members. His video was broadcast around the globe on CNN minutes after it was sent in via iReport and was viewed nearly 3 million times on CNN.com. Days later, a victims profile page based largely on iReport material became the most trafficked, single-feature element in CNN.com's history.

 

This tragic event was a watershed moment in iReport's history, drawing unprecedented attention not only to CNN iReport, but to the importance of citizen journalism efforts around the globe. Not only that, but Albarghouti's cell phone would later be displayed in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

 

The Minneapolis bridge collapse: On August 1, 2007 -- the eve of iReport’s first anniversary -- an eight-lane bridge on Interstate 35W in Minneapolis suddenly collapsed during rush hour, sending dozens of vehicles plunging into the Mississippi River and killing 13 people. Mark Lacroix sent photos of the scene immediately after and provided information about the situation to viewers live on CNN TV with Wolf Blitzer.

 

Lacroix's images were among the more than 450 iReports sent to CNN within the first 24 hours of the bridge's collapse -- the biggest response in one day to a single news event in our brief history.

 

This event happened in the evening, past the iReport team’s normal working hours. It just happened that we were staffed that night (working on our first anniversary coverage). Our key lesson was that we needed to beef up the ranks, so after this event, we increased our evening staffing and established formal training for colleagues across CNN platforms. Today, the iReport editorial team is made up of 10 people – much more than our initial group of four – and countless colleagues across CNN have been trained to use the iReport system.

 

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22 Comments
August 8, 2011
Click to view GRS62's profile

iReport needs the be shuttered, CNN. If you insist on keeping this wanna be Youtube thing going then please, relegate them to their own, EASILY IDENTIFIABLE section so readers aren't tricked into clicking on a non-news worthy piece of self promoting fluff. Thank you.

August 8, 2011
Click to view jewc's profile

I agree with GRS62. It is well understood thatperhaps due to the demand for up to the minute updatesreporting practices and journalism in general have suffered greatly. However, so-called iReporters lack the credibility and the training to hold such an important place on the website. Traditionally, a journalist would call these individuals sources that must be contacted, interviewed, vetted and so on, not reporters. The iReporter segment on CNN.com only helps to deconstruct the nobility of journalism.

August 8, 2011
Click to view DeltaForce1's profile

I agree with GRS62. I am so sick and tired of clicking on stories that I think could be interesting, only to find some poorly written iReport that lacks substance of any kind. I'm also sick of the iReports that are like sob stories. Just get to the point so I don't have to keep scrolling down. BLUF - Bottom Line Up Front !

August 8, 2011
Click to view suncatcher's profile

Sorry, IReport Team, but I totally agree with the 2 posters above.  You all look like very young folks with high energy but lacking life experience. To say these 5 stories "shaped your first year" is alarming if you are comparing your work to legitimate news sources and reporters. 

August 8, 2011

I can see the argument about the deconstruction of journalism but Ireport is more for communication than it is for actual journalism. It is an amazing tool to have on a national news website.

  If you work in Television, you can only capture so much if your not there when it happens.  IReport fills this gap.  Not in a journalistic way, but it communicable way by transmitting information when it happens. 

August 8, 2011
Click to view katie's profile

Thank you all for your feedback. Certainly we're big believers that iReporters' contributions play a big role in CNN's coverage, especially in situations like Virginia Tech (mentioned above), when an iReporter was on the scene before any mainstream media and could share a unique account.

 

It's an interesting discussion. Thanks for chiming in!

August 8, 2011
Click to view sunspots's profile

I've always been concerned about the copyright issues of posting. I did a few initially then pulled back when reading about rights being given totally to CNN.

August 8, 2011
Click to view docmurdock's profile

When posting something to a network owned site, you're generally giving up your rights to it. However, CNN would do well to listen to its audience and not dismiss original copyright holders rights as the LOC Library of Congress Copyright Office does state that the person who created the work is the original copyright holder and they can claim this, substantiate it, and you can be held liable for damages. In the case of a digital work it's from the moment of creation.

 

Of course for those not wanting to abide by CNN's rules don't have to post things here and can easily set up their own site and display materials there as well as post press releases on google which will get exposure quickly while still maintaining their copyright protections.

 

August 8, 2011
Click to view Oleoay's profile

I disagree with GRS62 and jewc.. I think the iReporters that float to the top generally put more effort into journalism, factchecking, editing and proofreading than CNN's own reporters and editors do. I'm not saying the iReporters are awesome, actually, but that CNN's reporters/editors are horrid.

August 8, 2011
Click to view jewc's profile

To be entirely frank, I have lost all faith in CNN as a reputable news source. I only find myself on this site when I have fulfilled my per-month limit on the NYT. Reporting by even the 'professionals' is poor at best. Major details are glossed over, glaring typos strew themselves through each article, and most articles are largely recycled. To be a writer and a reporter used to mean something but it has apparently become a dying art.

August 8, 2011
Click to view Oleoay's profile

Also, as an FYI, community reporting really exploded in 2001 when the major internet news sites went down on 9/11 along with the NYC blackout. People on IRC channels created ad hoc news pages to inform the public on what happened, gave contact information to stranded travellers on where they can stay for the night and information on blood banks.

August 8, 2011
Click to view Oleoay's profile

Out of curiosity, why is this written by Tyson but posted by katie?

August 8, 2011
Click to view MonaLua's profile

I completely disagree with GRS62 and the others that have followed. I enjoy browsing through iReports and it is refreshing to read/watch another person's perspective about an event. How many of us really get to live through news? iReport is a great way to share if you ever get to live through it! The fact that it's a group of young and high energetic people makes it all better! They are the future and bring new ideas. If it weren't young ideas we'd be reading this in a newspaper!

August 8, 2011
Click to view sunethra's profile

... and now that family has grown and grown, congratulations!!!  a long long way up....

August 9, 2011
Click to view jay2003's profile

I am not very familiar with IReport - do these casual reporters get paid by CNN? I assume, by way of IReport, CNN gets more viewership, more content and indirectly more revenue. I guess, CNN rolls back all the earnings from IReport back into costs associated with running IReport. Not trying to say that CNN should not profit from this - just curious about the financial aspect of this initiative.

August 9, 2011
Click to view drowlord's profile

It's fueled by the same attention-seeking behavior that drives YouTube.  With considerably less creativity and a veil of news-worthiness.  I'm sure it's a fun feature for people who believe in concepts like social journalism (twitter?).  But if you're looking for news, iReports are mostly an impediment.

August 9, 2011
Click to view NakedBoyNews's profile

Happy 5th Anniversary iReport. Thank you CNN and the iReport team for an amazing 5 years. iReport has given everyday people a place to share their opinions and personal viewpoints on stories. It is very important to show people's opinions and get a pulse of what's happening in the country and around the World. Keep up the good work and I look forward to seeing what's to come. Congrats!

August 10, 2011
Click to view katie's profile

@Oleoay Sorry for the slow response. I've been coordinating the top five posts on the blog, so I'm posting them for guest bloggers. I hope that makes sense!

August 11, 2011
Click to view deannereport's profile

IReport is changing the face of journalism. Kudos for being a leader in citizen journalism, crowd sourcing videos, photos and information. Keep it up and congrats on growing every year.

August 11, 2011
Click to view larena's profile

great thanks

August 11, 2011
Click to view Bellydancer's profile

All awesome and moving stories..Great job CNN! And great job iReorters!

August 11, 2011
Click to view Bellydancer's profile

JEESH!iReporters!

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