Q&A with Rachel Sterne of GroundReport

Rachel Sterne is founder and CEO of GroundReport.com, a citizen journalism site with an international perspective. In this interview, conducted by e-mail, Sterne talks about how the site works, how it uses social media and how its content is edited.

Q. What is GroundReport, and who makes up your audience?

A. GroundReport is an global news platform that allows anyone to submit articles, videos and photos for publication. The best work is published online to an international audience and syndicated to Google News, Huffington Post and other outlets.

Our mission is to democratize the media, but we’ve found that adding vetting and reward systems helps to ensure that our news reporting has some of the highest standards in the participatory journalism space. Founded in 2006, today GroundReport has over 7,000 contributors around the world, and our exclusive reports have been cited by The New York Times and AFP.

Our audience is mostly American, English, Canadian and Indian places where there are large, English-speaking, technologically connected populations. Our contributors are mostly foreign journalists, freelance writers, journalism students, bloggers and nonprofits.

Q. How does your site use social media to promote its content?

GroundReport is a purely digital news offering, so from day one, social media has been integral to our success. As a couple examples, we use Twitter to recruit journalists and publish stories to the world, and Facebook Connect to create a social environment for responding to stories and engaging with authors. We also publish video via YouTube Direct and share all videos on that platform as well as on our site.

Beyond that, GroundReport itself is social media, a full-fledged news platform completely supported by digital contributors.

Q. How does editing and headline writing work at GroundReport?

GroundReport’s editing system is based on the reputation of the author. An author is classified in one of two ways: Verified or Unverified.

If the reporter is on our Verified list, her work is instantly published live upon submission. If the author is unverified, all submissions enter a hidden queue where our Editors and Super-Users can review and approve or delete all content. We reward great contributors by making them Editors and give them extra privileges that allow them to edit any content on the site as if it were a Wikipedia page. Most of our Editors, not surprisingly, are journalism students, eager for a way to apply their skill set and get real-world digital journalism experience.

Headline writing is first submitted by users, and most are published as is. If the story is of mainstream relevance, we look to optimize the title for search using tools like Google Trends and Twitter Trends to research how people are searching for the stories.

Q. With much of the U.S. media increasingly turning to local news, what do you see as the future of international reporting?

A. I feel strongly that the two are deeply intertwined. When you investigate deeply enough, every story is local.

We feel that by presenting international news from the local perspective, we bring more engagement and emotional connection. Just as there is local U.S. news, there is local news for everywhere else in the world, and unfortunately, we almost never get to discover those unique local perspectives on foreign events.

Until now, many American news outlets have only presented foreign news stories researched and reported by an American. We think that there is a huge opportunity to support both national and foreign journalists in doing local reposting. And in this way, GroundReport supports both local and international coverage in one go.

Follow Rachel Sterne on Twitter and read her stories on the GroundReport site.

UPDATE: In January 2011, Sterne accepted the position of chief digital officer of New York City.