NewsiT Raises $500K To Gamify Crowd Journalism

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Crowdsourced news platform NewsiT.net just announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding. And, timed to match the beginning of South by Southwest, it’s also launching its iPhone app.

The company was founded by longtime journalist Melinda Wittstock, who has worked for the Times of London, BBC Television, the Guardian, the Observer, ABC News, National Public Radio, and MSNBC/CNBC. Wittstock says she wanted to reinvent the newsgathering and publishing model after attending “too many conferences with a lot of moaning and not a lot of solutions.”

This is hardly the first experiment with crowdsourced journalism. (Here’s a story that combines two examples — last fall, Spot.us, which uses crowdfunding to support investigative journalism, was acquired by American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, which helps newsrooms collect crowdsourced data.) But Wittstock says NewsiT was built around an important insight: “Every other user-generated content type play that we’ve seen over time expects regular folks to be journalists — and we don’t.”

So the startup doesn’t expect any of its members to create a complete┬ánews report on their own. Instead, it breaks a story up into manageable tasks, then assigns multiple members to each task. Members are rewarded with points and badges for both contributing and reading.

For example, the site is currently working on a story about the effect of digital media on politics. To participate, members can answer some basic questions, like whether they trust mainstream media or friends and social networks more as a source of political information. Or they can get more involved, by actually interviewing a panelist at SXSW about their opinions.

Eventually, someone from the NewsiT editorial team will take on those contributions and combine them into a polished article. Wittstock says NewsiT is also developing algorithms to help it find the patterns in user submissions, identifying answers that might be inaccurate — or perhaps a big scoop.

Naturally, the iPhone app creates new opportunities for gathering news while users are away from their desks. As the example above suggests, NewsiT will be taking advantage of its new mobility by creating a number SXSW-specific tasks.

And while Wittstock is looking into licensing the company’s technology to others, she doesn’t just want to be a technology provider to other organizations. NewsiT is a site for news gathering and news consumption, and it offers rewards for both. (That applies to the app, too.)

Investors include Sandra D. Kresch, president of PSD International and managing director of Golden Seeds, and P. Chrisman Iribe, CFO of Scaleform Corporation and former president and COO of PG&E.