Fast-track to the deadpool?

It takes nerve to launch a new citizen journalism website right now. It’s already a crowded space – shortly, I predict, to become markedly less crowded as tried-and-failed business models hit the buffers – but some opportunities surely remain. And so credit is due to, which launches today. It’s shtick is compartmentalising the news:

iConflict brings you the latest news on international conflicts and crises. We’ll leave gossip and meaningless news to other sites. That’s what makes iConflict different.

iconflict logo
Fair enough. What can we say about this CJ startup on the evidence so far?
– First, aside from the logo, which I imagine swallowed 80% of the launch budget, it looks just ghastly. Blue and brown colour schemes are not often seen on the web. This is why.
– The terms of use are short on detail. This, for instance:

By posting content on the Service, a user is giving ICONFLICT the right to display such content on the Service and its affiliated publications and to distribute such content and use such content for promotional and marketing purposes.

Does or does that not mean that contributors retain copyright to their own original content? If so, say so explicitly. If not, be transparent. Does iConflict have the right to syndicate contributor content commercially e.g. sell print or broadcast right to a hot picture or video? It’s not clear.
– The intro video on the home page is just embarrassing. Somebody should tell them. A pretty girl with a hat and a deadpan drole is just not the draw they clearly believe it to be.
– There’s a huge advert just below the video and more ads lower down the page. Why on earth would a startup that’s going to rely 100% on growing a community so compromise its integrity and alienate potential members on day one? Build the community first and then introduce ads when you have valuable screen space to sell. Ugh.
– The conflict map is lame. You’d think the whole of China is at war, that Somalia is all peace and quiet, and that the Democratic Republic of Congo isn’t currently home to the most vicious conflict since the Second World War. For a proper conflict map, check out the excellent interactive map from Reuters AlertNet here.
– Content. There isn’t much to speak of, and what is there is second-hand and dubious.

A chunk of Antarctic ice about seven times the size of Manhattan suddenly collapsed, putting an even larger portion of glacial ice at risk, scientists said. Global warning is being blamed for the dramatic occurrence.

Um… in what way is this a story about conflict? Where’s the link to the source article (a quick Google shows that it’s here). Where’s the picture credit? Which scientists are being quoted? Who is blaming global warming? When did this happen? Come on guys, this is basic stuff – who, what, when, where, why.
To be fair, content will might come from the community and iConflict needs to provide a platform to attract a community in the first place. But as Sanjana Hattotuwa notes in this critique:

Soft launches, waiting until the content is ripe, viral marketing, letting the content promote itself, cross fertilisation of and integration with other CJ sites, true mashups (there is not a shred of evidence on iConflict of mashups of any kind) are all marketing strategies, amongst many others, that are far more sustainable and effective than the exceedingly vulgar hype that iConflict expects us to believe that is a far cry from reality.

But ultimately none of this much matters. It’s all relatively trivial and can be easily fixed (some of in an afternoon by a web designer).
What does matter, and matters hugely, is the tone. Reporting from a conflict zone is not a game. It’s not something that half-arsed citizen journalists do for fun or the kudos of a credit. It’s a serious business where, whether you’re a professional or an amateur, balls, skill and good sense are absolute pre-requisities. It might get you killed – and I dare you’re a damn site more likely to get killed if you point a camera at the soldier who’s got you in his sights. Where’s the acknowledgment of this on iConflict? Where are the guidelines? Where’s the evidence that the people behind iConflict have the slightest experience of reporting from conflict zones or a shred of credibility for inviting others to do so?
There MIGHT be a way to engage citizen journalists in conflict reporting, and there is a glimmer of potential in this segment from the introductory video:

We have it covered because you have it covered. With so many people living and working in conflict zones, the ability of citizen journalists to contribute news has never been greater.

But it’s going to take more than a girl with Mogadon eyes and a website with the production values of a student project to engage people whose lives are being literally blown apart.