Inside Brazil’s Media Ninjas Storyhunter produced this dispatch for Fusion in May.
With most foreign news bureaus sapped of manpower, the demand for freelance correspondents is high. But finding a reliable journalist in a different country or continent is a tall task. At the same time, the danger of reporting in some regions has never been greater, especially for those without large news organizations at their backs.
Storyhunter hopes to address both problems with a user-friendly platform connecting media companies with a global pool of freelancers, providing insurance for them should they report from conflict zones. The Brooklyn-based startup unveiled a beta version of its site on Tuesday at the Web Summit conference in Dublin. Provided its technology stands up — a big unknown at this early stage — Storyhunter holds the potential to make life a bit easier for news organizations hungry for coverage of the far corners of the world.
“Media companies don’t have anything right now that allows them to instantly multiply their Rolodex by this number of people,” co-founder and CEO Jaron Gilinsky said in a phone interview. “By focusing on this pipeline and connecting freelancers with media companies, we’re trying to do something that nobody wants to do.”
Something no working journalist wants to do, that is. Other ventures have taken similar stabs at creating virtual marketplaces. Contently uses a comparable concept with marketing firms, for example, while Contributoria takes a more community-based approach to financing and publishing stories. What’s different about Storyhunter is that it allows news organizations and a verified network of professional freelancers to buy and sell journalism like any other product online.
The startup’s initial focus was producing short documentaries, similar to Vice but without the attitude. Reports from Afghanistan to Peru to Louisiana have been featured by the likes of Newsweek, Yahoo!, and PBS. Storyhunter has since broadened its umbrella to cover print and photojournalism, though videos — be they journalism or branded content, another new addition — remain its specialty.
That makes sense. More Americans watch online videos than ever before, and billions more global consumers will come online within the next decade. Digital video ad revenue has grown 13 percent since last year, according to a report by the Interactive Advertising Bureau. And demand for such advertisements has outstripped some media companies’ video supply.
Storyhunter’s beta site, tested by Fusion, msnbc.com, Al Jazeera Plus, and others, looks like Airbnb, which Gilinsky counts as an inspiration. Vetted correspondents — “storyhunters,” in company parlance — create free profiles with their location, past work, and open pitches. More than 3,500 journalists spanning 130 countries have already joined the network.
News organizations either solicit story ideas or filter available correspondents by skillset and location. “They can say, ‘I only want Africa stories, or Morocco stories, or Tangiers stories,’” Gilinsky added. That precision is likely the key for breaking news coverage. On Oct. 4, for example, msnbc.com published a Storyhunter dispatch from protests in Hong Kong less than 24 hours after calling for pitches. What’s more, the platform allows companies to “follow” specific freelancers or coordinate teams of far-flung reporters — a sort of virtual foreign bureau.
Correspondents and news organizations negotiate compensation through the site. “We’re letting the market decide [pricing],” Gilinsky said. Fellow co-founder and COO Alex Ragir added in an email that video journalists’ typical day rates range from $400 to $1,000, while fully produced videos between three and five minutes long generally command between $1,200 and $4,000. Storyhunter handles these transactions, including invoicing and payment, and charges a 10 percent service fee for its legwork. That amount that would likely shrink if it moves toward a subscription-based business model in the future, Gilinsky said.
Whether Storyhunter finds success will depend largely on the functionality of its website, which Gilinsky said will remain in beta through the end of the year. In the meantime, the startup has taken a very real step to help protect its freelancers. In September, after the issue of journalist safety came to the fore with the deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, Storyhunter announced it would cover insurance for its correspondents in conflict zones.
“The sad truth is that, for $20 or $30 a day, all freelancers who are actively doing projects for media companies can be insured,” Gilinsky said. “But that’s not being done. We’re more than happy to pay $20 or $30 a day for a person who’s risking their neck for one of our stories.”
(Disclosure: I attended college with Carlos Cabrera, a product manager at Storyhunter.)