MSNBC.com has tapped into the trend with the launch of FirstPerson, a feature that enables consumer-generated storytelling by inviting readers to upload their stories, video, and photos related to passions like travel, pets, and vintage cars. The site's editors sift through consumer submissions and publish them in a photo gallery format. Readers can view and vote for their favorite stories.
The FirstPerson (www.firstperson.msnbc.com) feature soft-launched earlier this month with offerings that so far include "Your World," a gallery of readers' photos from their world travels; "Unsung Americana," highlights of quirky town landmarks; vintage car photos; silly dog photos, and calls for celebrity lookalike photos.
Each feature highlights readers' and editors' picks and allows consumers to blog about and share their stories, photos, and video. FirstPerson will increasingly tie in to the news of the day, featuring readers' stories on, say, the East Coast snowstorms and other natural disasters.
In recent weeks, FirstPerson tied in with NBC Nightly News' feature "Trading Places," a series of reports on adult children caring for their aging parents. Viewers submitted more than 6,000 videos, stories, and photos to FirstPerson editors about dealing with the issue.
"The cool thing about FirstPerson is that we allow users not only to vote on their favorites, but we have editors' picks," said Jennifer Sizemore, editor in chief, MSNBC.com. "The rankings also engender a sense of ownership and loyalty. One of the things that people love to look at it is 'the most popular' or 'most viewed' aspects," she said citing YouTube and other video portals. "We're trying to foster community in lots of different ways. That's why we have message boards on every section of the site."
MSNBC.com section editors are charged with assessing the reader-generated material.
"We decided we didn't want it to be an unfiltered experience. We didn't want to have irrelevant content. We knew we would have to have a human filter," Sizemore said. New topics will be added on a weekly basis.
Currently, there is no advertising support for FirstPerson, but Kyoo Kim, MSNBC.com's vice president-sales, said advertisers in the travel and pet products categories are interested.
"We view it as mini-franchises around softer content," he said. In the next few weeks, MSNBC.com will debut a new Flash-based tool that will enable interactive advertising around FirstPerson.
"From an advertising standpoint, it's the perfect environment to test rich media. This is just another mechanism for our readers to go deeper into the content," Kim said. "There is a value proposition for the advertiser and there is some editorial control."
MSNBC.com isn't the only news organization introducing reader-generated multimedia content.
Last week, The New York Times initiated a similar feature for its "Weddings and Celebrations" page by inviting readers to submit videos on the newspaper's Web site. The video of newly engaged couples will become part of the "How We Met" series, marking the first time the site has published user-generated video.
Times staffers screen all video submissions. And like MSNBC.com, the paper also has a site that invites auto enthusiasts to post photos and personal stories about their collectible cars. Readers can rate each other's autos and post comments at collectiblecars.nytimes.com.
CNN.com has "I Report," in which consumers can send their stories and video reports to the news organization. The Feb. 26 series of reports delivered weather-related video reports from regular folks around the country.