Company: Transterra Media
Founders: Jonathan Giesen, Eli Andrews
Ages: 41, 39
Established in: Sept 2012
Number of Employees: 17
Revenues: ½ million
Capital raised: 1.3 million
Awards: Red Herring Top 100 Asia 2013
“Two years ago it was like journalism was killed,” says Transterra Media CEO and co-founder Jonathan Giesen, referring to the flood of citizen journalism with the rise of social media that shadowed the Arab Spring. This appeared, Giesen says, as the final deadly blow to the media industry, which had been struggling since the 2008 recession slashed advertising prices, its main form of revenue.
But citizen journalism has not replaced old school reporting. Without a screening process to make sense of the world of online content, it has become at times chaotic. Transterra Media recognized this with the launch of their Beta website in Cairo, three days before the Egyptian revolution. The platform created a network where journalists could upload content that would be reviewed and purchased by broadcasters. “It was completely flooded with citizen journalism, activists, and it was really difficult to sort through the entire morass of content,” says Giesen. “We learned that the open-place market where you just load up photos, load up videos, load up stories, and or pitch stories doesn’t really work,” he says Giesen. Despite the supply of citizen journalism, he explains, the media industry is still driven by the broadcaster’s demand for quality coverage.
Giesen has won a number of awards
“The journalism world is still trying to find cheaper ways of getting better and better content from the ends of the earth,” says Giesen. “It’s too expensive to send your correspondent to Syria. It’s too dangerous. If you pick up the wires you’re going to get the exact same coverage that everybody is getting because they’re just sending out one major stream. So the idea is to get custom or tailored footage specific to your broadcasting.”
Transterra Media has since re-vamped and launched as a Lebanese company in September 2012. They have switched to an ‘on-demand’ model, where the broadcaster’s demand drive content specifications. “So for instance CNN or al Arabiyya or al-Jazeera – any one of the main international newspapers will say 'listen, we need footage from Syria. We need a 4 minute news package to broadcast on Saturday from Syria on X topic.” They currently have 236 news companies on their website, with premium buyers purchasing fifteen to twenty five stories per month. The company has so far made half a million in revenues, through a commission of thirty percent off each article.
Journalists must go through a screening or “vetting” process to be plugged into the network. This is a two-step process. “First, we have to get all your information in terms of your skypes, your emails, your twitters, we need to know if you’re a photo journalist, if you’re a video journalist, can you do piece-to-camera, can you get in front of a camera and actually put together a live broadcast… all of the different aspects a journalist could possible do,” says Giesen.
“And then we go through what is called second-level vetting, which is looking at it from a production standpoint so if you’re a video producer what are you shooting on, how can you shoot it, who have you sold to in the past, where did you get published, can you put together a 4-minute news package, can you put together a feature story… we need to know everything about what your capabilities are as a journalist.”
So far they have a network of 1700 journalists in 123 countries, and their goal is to keep building and diversifying their contacts. “We try to get as broad of a territorial reach,” says Giesen. In Syria for instance “we’ve got guys in Aleppo, we’ve got guys in Itlib, Ar-Raqqah, Deir ez-Zor, Damascus. We’re trying to get people in Daraa.”
To speed up communication between the broadcasters and the journalists, they are building an app to be incorporated into the network. This app will enable broadcasters to track the vetted journalists, and pull up their qualifications. “If a bomb goes off and you’re in the area, we know exactly what you can do, if you can provide historical context,” says Giesen. The app would also let broadcasters pair journalists with different skill sets together. “What we’re trying to do is build a network of people that can share resources, share stories, take assignments, change assignments as they are, pitch stories from the field, and then one of the big things is to go piece-and-camera or the liveshot,” he says.
Transterra media is growing with 75 new journalists joining the network every week, according to Giesen. But there are limits to the global news industry. “The conundrum in the industry is that there are only – let’s say there are only 800 really top-level buyers, news outlets that can use our material. There’s a limit. Even if you’re talking about professional journalists there’s only about between five and ten thousand,” says Giesen. “In order to expand our content base we’re gonna have to start finding new ways… either working with social media in a better way, or doing a lot of training to get people up to scratch.”