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Citizen Journalists Break News

Showing just how far the concept of user-generated content has come, viewers recently tipped two Middle America stations off to stories that aired on their news programs.

On June 28, KHGI and KWNB, sister ABC affiliates in Lincoln-Hastings, Neb., aired reports of a high school's getting new laptops and a church group's heading south to help Hurricane Katrina victims. Both stories stemmed from postings on a new community Website, dubbed Community Correspondent and created by the stations' parent company, Pappas Telecasting. On the site, residents can post stories, photos and video about happenings in their community.

Pappas recently launched the site in the Lincoln market, where it also operates Fox stations KTVG and KSNB. So far, nearly 350 residents signed up as contributors, posting around 30 items a day to sections dedicated to weather, sports, news, local activities and military troops. Station producers can dispatch their reporters to follow up on promising ideas.

Across the country, stations are tapping viewers to send pictures or call with tips. After the London bombings a year ago, when witnesses snapped photos with their cellphones, WABC New York began soliciting photos from viewers. ABC affiliate WKRN Nashville built to aggregate local bloggers, and it also trained them to shoot video.

The Pappas effort, however, stands out because it is the first major station group to build a stand-alone business from the trend. Users can submit content by cellphone, handheld device or computer. 'Net surfers rate stories, and the more popular items will be fed into the stations' newsrooms for producers to consider.

“We're not arbitrators of what is news,” says Rosemary Danon, Pappas VP of online and new media. “This lets the community decide.”

Pappas intends for its stations to incorporate elements of the community boards into every newscast. “A lot of people in the newsroom keep the site open all day at their desk,” says Desiree Hill, VP of news development. “They're waiting for content to come through.”

Pappas aims to have all 27 of its stations up and running with local Web boards by the end of the summer. A national site will link the efforts and highlight the top stories in each market.

Pappas is taking pains to keep questionable content off the sites. Teams will monitor for inappropriate content, and users will also be able to flag iffy postings, which producers will remove.

As the Web concept catches on, Pappas is eyeing revenue models. It hopes to sell ads, and, if another media outlet wants to buy a picture or video, Pappas will help facilitate the deal and share the revenues with the user.

But before any income shakes out, Pappas needs to get more residents involved. It plans to promote Community Correspondent on newscasts; in Lincoln-Hastings, the stations explain on-air how to participate. The chief photographer at KDBC El Paso, Texas, is developing tips for shooting news with home-video cameras. In an effort to build participation, the stations will share promos.

“This will have a different flavor in every market,” says Hill. “But these sites are for the communities.”

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