Secrets Of Starting A Citizen Media Organization

Editor’s note: The UpTake is featured along with journalists Bob Woodward, Katie Couric, Arianna Huffington and others as part of YouTube’s Reporters’ Center.  This is our video contribution – how to organize a video citizen media operation.

Scroll down to the bottom of the story and you’ll see the list of free services we use to run The UpTake!




You may have caught our live coverage of the Republican National Convention.  We seemed to have cameras where ever the action was and were reporting what was happening hours if not days before the legacy media.

So how did The UpTake, a non-profit that operates on a shoestring and the kindness of donors, manage to out-do the multi-million dollar corporate media?  Simple: Train, Organize and Crowd source.

We discovered people learn the most when we do hands-on, one-on-one sessions to cover the basics.  Most important was to give people feedback on what they did.

Now you have a bunch of people who can run a camera and want to cover news.  That’s great!  But what are they all going to do?  This is where applying the same organization techniques used in political campaigns comes into play.

We turned to free services available on the web to keep track of volunteers, story ideas, events and of course equipment.  The challenge was to connect volunteers with story assignments and equipment.  We didn’t have our own equipment to start, so we created a database of equipment our volunteers owned and were willing to lend out.  We let people submit story ideas to our website.

The hard part was finding volunteers to cover those stories.  So we put one person in charge of just connecting volunteers and stories.

(video of Recount and trial)
Organizing volunteers was integral to our marathon coverage of Minnesota’s US Senate recount and Election Contest Trial.  The UpTake was the ONLY media to cover every minute of this and thousands around the world watched daily… for several months. 

Standup: Organizing can be as low-tech as listing what might happen on a sheet of paper and asking people who is interested in going there with a camera.  It can also be as high-tech as using the cutting edge tools.

Using Cover it Live and Twitter during live events we’re able let our audience help us with the reporting. The time stamp on both services helps us locate the important snippets of video out of the hours we record… allowing our volunteers to quickly edit clips that are interesting.

Using a free service called Tubemogul, we can publish those clips to You Tube, Blip and more than a dozen other video websites in a matter of minutes.

During the RNC we used crowd sourcing on twitter to weretrack where news was happening by searching for the RNC hashtag or following particular people’s tweets.

Since our volunteers were dispersed all over downtown, we could have someone on the scene in minutes.  And thanks to a free service called Qik, we were able to stream live video of the event as it happened.

We use two kinds of phones for live streaming: The Nokia N-95 and the iPhone.   Both lack a good lens and a good microphone.  But we were able to solve part of that problem by using adaptors to plug in a professional microphone.   These phones gave us another important advantage: police couldn’t confiscate our video.

That’s an important consideration because police arrested dozens of journalists, including one of our own. Once the video was streamed from the phone, it was on a server where the police couldn’t reach it.

We still sent people out with regular tape cameras… and they came back with compelling video that we quickly captured, edited and distributed for the whole world to see.

The UpTake – a shoestring volunteer operation — was able to do all of this not only because the technology to do it was easy and affordable… but because we were able to organize.  That is the secret ingredient in any citizen journalism organization… and it’s something we’re willing to teach others.


The free services The UpTake uses are:

Zanby (social networking, content management)

Google Docs (spreadsheets for statistical analysis, shared text documents for collaborative writing)

Zoho (Databases for volunteers and story ideas)

Cover It Live (live blogging)

Twitter (Crowd sourcing and reporting)

Tubemogul (Video distribution tool)

You Tube (Video distribution site)

Blip (Video distribution site)

Qik (Live video streaming from phones)

Livestream (Live video streaming from computers)

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