The world’s biggest shop window for news is unveiled

Covering the most powerful media companies to the smartest startups, former Independent media editor Ian Burrell examines the fraught problem of how news is funded today. Follow Ian @iburrell.

One of the greatest technical innovators in media history arrived on British shores as Israel Beer Josaphat, a young immigrant publisher whose deep instincts for news distribution are still influencing the way journalism works.

Soon after reaching London in 1851, Josaphat changed his name to Paul Julius Reuter and exploited the newly laid Dover to Calais underwater cable to send dispatches to and from continental Europe via telegraph. Last week, the global news agency that he spawned continued his legacy by unveiling what is potentially the biggest and most impressive shop window for journalism ever created.

Reuters Connect is a single digital home for more than 5m pieces of news content, including 4m photographic images, 1.1m video films, more than 100,000 written stories and a range of infographics. All are available for download, charged under a global-friendly Reuters Points system, which bills three points for a photo and six for a video. Each client is allocated a quota of points in their contract, depending on what they pay.

The breadth of content is phenomenal, reflecting Reuters’ great heritage and scale. The platform also offers news material from a portfolio of partner news organisations, including the BBC (supplying UK video) and USA Today (mostly American sports coverage), and there is clearly scope for expanding this news store exponentially.

“We were very conscious of keeping this a secret and not wanting to talk about it before we unveiled it,” says Claudia Palmer, Reuters' chief business officer and chief finance officer. “As we move forward and Reuters Connect is out in the public, I am sure we will be talking to more and more partners.”

For a service dedicated to increasing trust in journalism and reducing the influence of fake news, it seems appropriate that the oldest film in the Reuters Connect archive is of a coronation procession shot outside the Kremlin. The 1896 footage of the crowning of Czar Nicholas II was taken by Camille Cerf, a cameraman for the celebrated French filmmakers the Lumiere Brothers, and the newsreel was subsequent acquired by Reuters along with the collections of other pioneer organisations such as Gaumont Graphic and British Paramount.

But Reuters Connect is more concerned with breaking news. Its Russian coverage this week featured photos shot by Reuters photographer Murad Sezer of the Russian Navy guided-missile destroyer Smetlivy sailing in the Bosphorous on its way to the coast of Syria. A targeted trawl of “Middle East Crisis” content on Reuters Connect – known as a “Storycentric” search – produces 278 videos, 1,758 pictures and six graphics, all generated in the past 30 days.

Previous to Reuters Connect, the agency’s clients had to view video or text or photos in isolation rather than grouped together in a single cache. Haris Agha, Reuters' global head of product customer experience, says: “Reuters Connect is all our multimedia assets and our partners’ multimedia assets under one roof.”

The clients for this material are not just traditional news organisations, but the great modern melange of institutions, non-governmental organisations and corporate enterprises who are today involved in publishing online content that responds to the changing conditions in the world. “I think if you are a publisher in today’s world – I mean publisher in the broadest sense of the word – you are trying to reach an audience and need to be different, to find something unique,” says Palmer.

Accessing the older archive – which includes 1903 film of the Wright brothers in flight – can unearth unusual content, or material which marks an anniversary. The database can be filtered by decade.

Content is offered in 10 languages (including Arabic and Chinese) and is grouped by 12 subject categories and 11 geographic regions. “I think what makes us unique is that Reuters is truly global news organisation – we have both deep and broad content from all around the world,” says Palmer. “This is bringing things together and letting customers decide on the fly what they need for a story and how they want to come at a story and that has never been done before.”

Reuters staffers were this week filing imagery ranging from Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and Palestine to the attendance at London’s Chelsea Flower Show of Rupert Murdoch and his wife Jerry Hall.

In looking for more news partners to add to the Reuters Connect offering, Palmer says she will be studying the data on what material is most accessed. “We will be able to get a sense of what customers like the best and that will help us get feedback on what we want to add. We are very focused on adding partners that we think will add a new dimension to the coverage, that will cover either a new geography or a different style of content from the other partners, so that each new partner will be adding to [Reuters Connect].”

The Reuters Points system is designed to suit clients using all financial currencies, and to offer them greater flexibility in how they pay for and use content. “Our customers may be located in different geographies, so Reuters Points is not linked to a currency – it’s based on customer dynamics and how large their audience is. If you are a small startup digital-only player, you are going to be paying something very different from, say, the Guardian, because of your reach.”

A small media company might purchase “a fewer number of points to get started”, while some of the biggest news organisations will opt for an “all-you-can-eat, unlimited subscription”, she says.

A client organisation's points balance is updated with each content download and keeps an easily accessible digital record of all purchases, cutting newsroom bureaucracy.

Most significantly, clients are directly connected with the Reuters editorial floor via digital notifications on breaking stories and new content, planning calendars detailing relevant events, and a “Reuters on Duty” facility, which guarantees that a member of the Reuters editorial staff is available at all times to answer any queries on content, whether video, photo or text.

Paul Reuter, who fled his German homeland when the authorities became aware of his role in producing radical pamphlets during Europe’s revolutionary year of 1848, was always an innovator: he made some of his earliest advances in news distribution by deploying homing pigeons to carry news of changing stock prices. The creation of this vast supply room of stories old and new, in every modern media format, would have surely pleased him.

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