How an Uber-style app for videographers is bringing 100,000 new stringers to Reuters

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.

An app-based network of 100,000 filmmakers that brings an Uber-style location model to the production of video has gone into partnership with Reuters.

Stringr, which is based in New York and has recruited 7,000 UK-based ‘videographers’ to its network since opening an office in London in May, is being introduced to the Reuters Connect platform, which serves 8,000 active users and clients ranging from global news organisations to ad agencies.

Videographers are alerted to an assignment via the Stringr app and those that accept are instantly flagged with a skills rating and their proximity to the job relative to current traffic conditions, similar to the Uber model.

Reuters stressed that it does not “endorse” Stringr’s content – shot by a mix of amateurs and professionals – as its own journalism but is providing access to the vast app-based network as a third-party service to enable Reuters Connect clients to generate bespoke video. The platform is offering an end-to-end video production facility by partnering with video editing tool InVideo and Amper Music, which generates rights-cleared soundtracks using artificial intelligence.

Haris Agha, Reuters’ global head of product customer experience, says the strategic move is designed to improve efficiency in a market where speed is paramount. “The whole story is about how do we fit better in the newsroom’s workflow.”

Agha’s definition of “newsroom” is a loose one, given that institutions, corporations and agencies are also looking to generate video content at speed. “Everybody is a content company now, [but] you don’t necessarily have the editorial skills to use the more sophisticated [tools].”

Stringr, which uses the catchphrase “Video of Anything. Anywhere.”, was founded in 2013 by former TV network news producer Lindsay Stewart and Brian McNeill. It has expanded to Los Angeles and London and works with major media partners such as the Associated Press and NBC.

Stewart tells The Drum that Stringr is not designed to serve everyone with a smartphone camera. “It was long my hypothesis that not everybody could provide valuable video,” she says. “So we go after a small sub-set, I call it the curative crowd."

The videographers have been sifted through a data-driven sign-on process and include a range of professional journalists and “hobbyists” with interest in photography and media.

The hub of the Stringr operation is its Curation Team of experienced journalists who use a “very robust back-end” system to oversee ongoing assignments worldwide. “Every time a video comes into our platform we rate it based on a number of factors,” she says. “As a videographer starts to improve, [they are given] an Uber driver-type score; we can see who the best and the brightest are, who are the nearest, we can even see their drive time and how long it will take them to get there based on current traffic.”

The global Curation Team follows the sun and switches between New York and London, where Stringr opened its office in Notting Hill. “It took us about four weeks to establish a network of about 7,000 videographers in the UK,” says Stewart. “It’s really quick and the reason is because we have this data set, we aren’t guessing about who we want on our platform.”

One of its early successes was a video shot in Bristol for the US media giant MGM. It featured a mannequin wearing a wedding dress and sitting in a wheelchair as the window display of a bridal shop. “That video came back to the folks at MGM and…was one of the most viewed videos that they had on their Lightworkers platform, which focuses on good news and inspirational stories.”

Stringr is planning expansion into France and Germany. “Our roadmap is to expand into broader Europe over the course of this fall. We can serve any customer that wants video out of the UK or the US from now, it doesn’t matter where our customers are based.”

She says Stringr has succeeded in attracting videographers from Northern Ireland, which she says has previously been a challenge for some London-based UK media organisations.

Reaching isolated locations is an obvious strength for a network of such scale and free of the logistical baggage of traditional camera crews. Stringr can access far corners of Nebraska, far from any news bureau, and one of its videographers was able to produce drone footage from a remote part of Ohio where a search was ongoing for a missing girl.

The success of the model will depend on whether the videographers are capable of generating content of sufficient quality to keep the assignments coming in and create a virtuous circle.

“The people who provide the video are extraordinarily important for us,” says Stewart. “One of the other key benefits to our videographers is that we pay them the very next day. If you have ever been a freelance anything you know that the billing cycle can be quite elongated.”

But the videographers – who are given notice of the “proposed payment” when they accept an assignment – only get their money if the client wants the content.

Stewart realises that Stringr must generate sufficient work so that “these folks have enough jobs and are excited to come to our app every day”.

“Now we have a number of partners that we believe will provide those assignments – Reuters (Connect) being chief among them – we feel very confident that we can start expanding our network of videographers and do it very quickly. Once you have a skilled population of videographers there is really no limit to what they can shoot.”

Reuters Connect launched in 2017 and has grown to offer 15m pieces of video content from 46 organisations including the BBC, National Geographic and Reuters itself.

Agha says that 60% of users of the platform download video within a minute of logging in. “Speed is essential – they know what they are looking for and want to grab it and move on.”

By building a productivity suite, Reuters says it is responding to this need for time efficiency, but also to client demand for creating and editing custom video.

Despite the plethora of content on Reuters Connect, publishers wanted it edited to suit their own audiences, and with a soundtrack to fit. “They said the soundtrack has to be unique and not a track that somebody else uses. With the tracks (available) in libraries, rights become an issue.”

By partnering with Amper Music, Reuters Connect allows clients to obtain soundtracks that are rights-cleared and tailored to the style and length of their video. “You take your genre and most importantly you take the duration of the track and set your intro and the climax,” says Agha, of the benefits of machine learning over sifting through a library. “It goes back to the speed question.

Every second counts and (you might) shave off 45 seconds because a track was recommended to you.”

Again, clients only pay (through the Reuters Connect points-based currency system) for the material they publish. “They can generate as many tracks as they want - 50 tracks in ten minutes – and when they are ready they can spend the points.”

Similarly with InVideo, charges are only made when a video is used. “You can start editing right there,” says Agha. “If you want it in square format for an Instagram Story, or you want to edit in vertical, or 16x9 (landscape), all those options are available and you can ship it out as quick as possible.”

The Productivity Suite will go live on Reuters Connect later in the year and will soon afterwards be enhanced with further tools and services. “We are looking to announce more partners at the end of the year,” says Agha.

Ian Burrell's column, The News Business, is published on The Drum each Thursday. Follow Ian on Twitter @iburrell

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