Fresco is a lot like Uber. It’s an app built for an on-demand service based on location. But unlike similar apps where you request a car, takeout, or a even a dog walker, Fresco puts a call out for a photojournalist. A newsroom posts a request for video of, say, a crime scene, and a Fresco user in the area can accept, take a video of it, and upload it to Fresco. If the news outlet uses it, the Fresco user gets paid $50. That seems like quite a bargain compared to the hundreds or thousands of dollars a professional journalist would earn. But Fresco raises many ethical questions — among them, do you get what you pay for?
TV news stations across the country are using the app, but Fresco is particularly appealing to KTBY, a station in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska is a big state, and many of KTBY’s viewers live in remote villages that are hours away by plane. It’s hard to cover those communities without spending a ton of money and time. In a Fresco promotional video, Scott Centers, COO of Coastal Television Broadcasting Company, which owns KTBY, marvels that Fresco offers an affordable alternative. “So if you take a reporter’s salary and then you add in the cost of vehicles, using Fresco we were able to cut that cost. And so what was once a $3,000 average cost, now comes down to less than $200,” Centers laughs.
But outsourcing news gathering to amateurs also comes with a cost. Fresco’s users are largely not trained in news gathering or journalistic ethics. Vice News spoke to multiple Fresco users, one of whom said she was hesitant when KTBY asked her to interview a politician about public policy.
Weirdly, Fresco’s promo about KTBY provides its own lesson in journalistic standards. It’s titled “Fresco Fully Powers Local TV News Station.” The description says, “Announcing the first television news station to be fully powered by citizen journalism.” Fresco CEO John Meyer says KTBY signed off on a press release making this claim. Yet KTBY’s news director, Mark Colavecchio, told Vice News, That was something that Fresco came up with, because we’re not fully powered by Fresco.”
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