Illustration: Michelle Henry

The Future of Citizen Journalism

With the 24/7 news cycle moving faster than ever, media companies have developed an insatiable appetite for compelling real-time content. In their quest to attract viewers, CBS, Fox News, CNN and other organizations compete as never before for dramatic breaking news footage, ranging from the devastation wrought by Asian tsunamis to school shootings in the Heartland to fatal textile factory fires in Bangladesh.

Ironically, this growing hunger for breaking news comes at a time when many organizations have shuttered domestic and international bureaus to shave costs. To fill that void, media companies have increasingly relied on citizen-journalists who provide cellphone videos and pictures as events unfold. Yet these homemade submissions take time to sort, view and verify, and often lack key details such as the exact time and place they were shot.

MediaQ could provide these organizations with an invaluable tool to greatly expand the breadth and depth of their coverage.

The USC-created online media management framework would allow organizations to send out requests to would-be reporters to gather footage of protests, fires, riots and other breaking news.

Using MediaQ’s mobile app, citizen-journalists could upload content to the platform’s server. All user-generated media would be automatically tagged with information such as when and where it was recorded and the camera’s direction, according to Seon Ho Kim, M.S. ’94, Ph.D. ’99, the project’s lead researcher and an associate director at USC Viterbi’s Integrated Media Systems Center. Location coordinates are acquired from embedded GPS receiver sensors in mobile devices, while digital compasses and accelerometer sensors capture camera orientation.

MediaQ could also ascertain whether any people appear in the uploaded content and even extract building or place names, to make it “far easier [for TV news producers and documentarians] to browse and search for videos and images,” Kim said.

Its potential is such that universities in Germany, China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia plan to release the system to their students for research and other purposes. If the beta testing performs as expected, Kim said, MediaQ could hit the market by year’s end.

The project, which has been in development since 2010 and has received funding from the National Science Foundation and Google, has already made a high-profile debut.

In January 2013, PBS NewsHour teamed up with MediaQ to create an “InaugBlog” for President Obama’s second inauguration. Using MediaQ, “15 rising stars in college journalism” uploaded videos and pictures to the InaugBlog website to create a rich multimedia experience of the historic proceedings, according to PBS.

“I think it makes good on the promise of what we call citizen-journalism,” said Gabriel Kahn, a former Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief in Hong Kong and in Southern Europe who now oversees the Future of Journalism project at the USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. “I think MediaQ has the potential to help improve the way news organizations cover the news.”