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Why CNN is bringing its citizen journalism tool to Google Glass

Citizen journalists can now interact with CNN's newsroom directly from a Google Glass app. Despite a low number of Glass owners, there is method to the apparent madness.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor
Image: CNET/CBS Interactive

CNN has become the first major U.S. news outlet to embrace wearable technology as a means to gather reports from citizen journalists around the country and the world.

On the face of it, it's a questionable decision, considering the scope and user base of Google Glass remains relatively low. An estimated 30,000 people own a pair of the wearable eyeglasses, but the majority are not likely to be wearing it on a day-to-day basis — let alone in a situation where they witness something newsworthy in the real world.

But it's not stopping the U.S. news network from experimenting with the technology, or the users who own one.

In a post this week, CNN iReport editor Katie Hawkins-Gaar explained the project was designed to expand its access to citizen journalists who submit stories, photos and videos on the ground. 

"You never know when you'll spot breaking news, and it's a simple, fast way to share the images and videos you capture with your Glass," she wrote.

iReport, the agency's citizen journalism platform, allows ordinary folks on the street to submit stories as de facto correspondents. The project helped CNN cover major events, including the London bombings in 2005 and the Nigerian protests in late 2011, among others.

On its fifth anniversary in August 2011, CNN had more than 1 million registered iReporters, and some form of content had been submitted from every country in the world.

"While we are doing things like investing in wearable technology like Google Glass, we’re also thinking about simplifying the upload process so that it’s easy for anyone to share their story, no matter where they are."
— Katie Hawkins-Gaar

But while the project remains in its early stages, the end-game point is to help CNN experiment and learn, Hawkins-Gaar told ZDNet in an email.

She said that Glass users may be in their limited numbers but were passionate and eager to try the next thing. And, she added, that it was to help the news agency learn more about when Glass can and should be used by its own reporters on assignment or working on collaborative projects.

"From an iReport standpoint, making it easier for people to upload iReports and share stories with CNN is key for us," she said. "The Google Glass functionality is part of that. We're also focused on better integration with social networks like Instagram, where countless people are sharing amazing images and stories every day."

Although many news agencies, like the BBC and CBS (which owns ZDNet and sister-site CNET) allow citizens to upload breaking news through photos and video content, verifying it can be tricky, and takes time to process the various information to ensure it is accurate.

"Before any iReport is approved for CNN, it goes through a strict verification process. We have a team of iReport producers dedicated to just that," she said. That can include checking the metadata of the raw file to make sure it was taken at a certain time and place that lines up with the developing story.

iReport is already available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Nokia devices. Venturing into the realm of Google Glass may help make that process easier, but it's not without its limitations.

CNN's iReport has a global community, but for now Glass-based iReports will be limited to U.S.-based citizen journalists, as Google Glass remains only available in the country.

It's a balance, Hawkins-Gaar suggested. In some countries Android phones take the majority market share, while in other nations iPhones rule the roost. In the anticipation that Glass may well one day become a mainstream technology, dabbling with wearable-based news gathering would be a step up from most other news outlets, which have their own global staff base.

"It's important to think about how users in various countries with various access to technology will share their stories," she said. 

"While we are doing things like investing in wearable technology like Google Glass, we're also thinking about simplifying the upload process so that it's easy for anyone to share their story, no matter where they are," she said. 

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