Interview: Raju Vanapala explains citizen journalism at play on Way2News

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Going hyperlocal helps put forth contextual stories that are relevant to communities in specific geographies. Here’s how Way2News is striving to achieve it.

Based out of Hyderabad, Way2News is a team of 130 editorial staffers. On a daily basis, armed with AI tools, they vet around 6000 stories. These are contributed by a network of about 2000 citizen journalists. One can access the application in eight Indian languages. Currently, the platform is able to acquire about 5 lakh new users for the network each month. The numbers were about 3 lakh per month a year ago. 

The platform thrives on the concept of hyperlocal journalism where contributors typically live and work in the communities they are writing about. The assumption here is that they know these spaces better than any other news outlet. Their importance, in the context of an electorate, is immense. For Way2News, major geographies covered include Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. We talked to Raju Vanapala, founder, Way2News to understand their work better. Here are the excerpts.

Tell us about your team and the process of vetting the news stories you get.

There are resident editors in our Hyderabad office who screen and verify the stories for each language offered on the platform. It is a manual process where AI is implemented to cut through the clutter. We have a scoring system for all citizen journalists. We give them points based on the number of stories that are published. With improved credibility scores, come more permissions and scope to submit news in various formats.

What is the remuneration model for the contributors?

The citizen journalists are paid between Rs 10 and Rs 50 per story that is published. The amount is based on the quality of the content and the format of the story being submitted. We started this about six months ago and the people who started with us back then are still with us, contributing stories. Everyone is interested in consuming information about what is happening around them.

Why did you decide to explore citizen journalism as a niche on the platform?

We have been in the news space for about three years now and citizen journalism is something we started to explore about six months ago. The intent was to go deep into the interiors of the county as we could see that the existing media is unable to go beyond districts. People are content-hungry and want to consume content in their own languages. We are trying to fulfill the needs of the consumers. We wanted to personalise the experience for people as the content is always a personal choice. There are two levels to this — location and interest. So far, location is our strength and we are working on tailoring content according to consumer interest with the help of AI. One size fits all doesn’t work.

What’s the revenue model at play for Way2News?

Currently, we are majorly burning money and getting on investments. Going forward, we are looking at advertising and brand integration as favourable means to generate revenue. We have tried to implement brand integration options on a pilot basis. There are two broad ways we can work this out — promoting short stories of a brand and integrating brands based on the topics in question. For example, we can get a pain brand aboard for weather reports.

How can the hyperlocal aspect of the platform be leveraged by brands and businesses?

On the advertising front, we can help small businesses reach relevant audiences, digitally. In a town of about 5000 people, even if we have 1000 users, it is a substantial reach for a small business to explore our platform. We are aiming to be the largest hyperlocal advertising platform that has a deep reach in town and villages.

Which social media platform works best for you when it comes to user acquisition?

For us, the method that works best is word of mouth. A large number of citizen journalists and users already on the medium help get more people on board. When it comes to social media, we haven’t tried paid advertising yet. Given the demographics we wish to target and how vernacular content works well on the platform, Facebook is a good platform for us. We are also looking to explore Tik Tok for campaigns as it is a relevant parallel.

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