CNN.com (which, like my employer, Business 2.0, is part of Time Warner), is having a YouTube moment.
Today it launched CNN Exchange, which is a new part of its site where the audience members can submit their own newsworthy "I-Reports." These can be photos, videos, or simple eyewitness accounts. The idea is that the best ones might be used on the Website or even on TV, or just spur additional coverage. It's a baby step (but an important one) towards including the audience as an active participant in the news-making process. (Don't confuse this with the other Web video news out of Time Warner today, AOL Video's planned relaunch on Friday. Also, CNN.com is a different site than CNNMoney.com, which hosts B2.0's Website. I know it's confusing. It's a big company).
CNN is not YouTube, and it never will be YouTube. It's not trying to be. The free-for-all nature of YouTube is not appropriate for a journalistic enterprise where people expect the videos, photos, and stories to be vetted and checked for accuracy. You cannot really automate that. And I'm not even sure to what extent CNN.com is going to do that, rather than just keep all the ranters and attention-seekers at a safe distance on a separate part of the site. At the same time, CNN.com knows that it is competing for attention with YouTube (see chart). It also knows that it is increasingly going to be showing video footage captured by everyday observers with camcorders both online and on TV. So why pull that footage off YouTube if it can get people to post that juicy video on its own site?
That's the big question for this venture. On YouTube, there are no gatekeepers. So you know pretty much anything you upload will be available for anyone in the world to see. CNN.com, by necessity, will be interrupting that feedback loop. But that feedback loop is extremely important, especially in the early days, because it is the primary mechanism (aka, ego boost) that will motivate people to submit video and other reports.
The other primary motivator will be the prospect of making the news and seeing your stuff on CNN proper. That is something YouTube cannot offer (at least, not on a regular basis). But here is where I think CNN.com is missing an opportunity. In the terms of service on CNN Exchange, it makes clear that anything submitted can be used by CNN any way it wishes, and it won't pay you for it. For the bulk of content submitted on the site, that is as it should be. But why not give the audience something to shoot for by offering a nominal fee for any content that, say, hits a certain threshhold of pageviews or makes it on TV? It would still be cheaper than paying professionals to create the content. And by paying the top contributors, CNN.com would be able to motivate everyone who contributes as long as everyone can strive for that same prize.
Of course, you don't get paid for anything you put up on YouTube either. But it's not starting from scratch in the tap-the-audience-for-your-content game.