Nir Ofir

As one of the very early members of the Online News Association, I’ve attended my share of ONA conferences over the years. This year, I wasn’t able to attend the annual gathering that ended in Washington, DC, over the weekend. Instead, I spent most of last weekend at TechCrunch50, a technology conference in San Francisco now in its second year put on by TechCrunch, one of those upstart startups that may put the San Jose Mercury News out of business some day.

Reviews of the ONA conference have been mostly positive, especially for the keynote delivered by my friend and fellow tech blogger Robert Scoble. (To get a glimpse of the future of media and Web TV, watch his talk here or read his Q&A with ONA here.)

But I wanted to mention one of the more intriguing startups I came across at TechCrunch50: iamnews, a small outfit run by an Israeli, Nir Ofir (above is a shot I took of him last week). The site took the top People’s Choice award at the conference.

Ofir describes iamnews as “a global open newsroom powered by you.” (Because it’s only as open as each publisher wants to make it, perhaps a better way to describe it is a DIY, or Do It Yourself, newsroom.) The site says it’s geared to “independent reporters, photographers, media moguls and anyone who wants to connect with reporters from the world and collaborate in the creation of news.”

Alas, the site is still in a closed alpha and is seeking investment capital, but what Ofir showed me was impressive. It has the makings of a modest content management system, giving publishers or editors the ability to designate members with certain roles (assignment desk editors, reporters, etc.) and a workflow queue similar to the editorial review process in a newsroom, as well as Web 2.0 features such as reputation systems for citizen journalists.

The goal is not to become a stand-alone destination site but to power blogs and citizen media sites that want to bring paid or volunteer contributors into a more structured editorial publishing environment. The site, Ofir told me, is for bloggers and publishers who don’t have the resources to start their own full-fledged news site.

Ofir writes on his site:

The Web is the Newsroom

I believe that the Internet of today is already a global newsroom, and we all take part in it. Video sharing, photos, blogs, and social network platforms are our tools for creating news. The most current example of this were the recent reports of the earthquake in China; reports that were communicated by means of a platform such as “Twitter”. These reports preceded formal TV news reporting by the traditional mass media.

However, there is problem with this global newsroom. The content and sharing tools which are available today, (such as we could only dream of three or four years ago) are not sufficiently adequate. The main reason for this is the excess of information. There is so much incoming information that the news networks are unable to screen the material, or select the preferred topics. There is also no current solution for quickly investigating the reliability of this material, or the reputation of its sources. There is simply no way in which to gather the information from so many sources, or effect the collaboration of these sources for the purpose of creating reliable news. Even if this were possible, there would still be no way to compensate the participants for their contributions.

iamnews will try to help remedy those shortcomings in the citizen media ecosystem. (Ouriel Ohayon has an interview with Ofir — in Hebrew — here.)

It’s comforting to know that, as 20th century media empires and business models begin to crumble, there are enterprising folks out there who still believe in the fundamental importance of news — gathering, editing and distributing the news — to our lives.