Eyewitnesses earn

SPEAKING at October's LFB meeting, photographer John D. McHugh outlined the thinking behind Verifeye Media eyewitness news agency (www.verifeyemedia.com), which he co-founded.

John D. McHugh; © Hazel Dunlop

John D. McHugh demonstrates

An LFB member, John spent years covering Afghanistan. In 2011, after years "dragging a huge amount of kit... up and down mountains", he first used an iPhone to upload photos from Kandahar City, which he sold to Newsweek. In the same year, John was at the Arab Spring's Bahrain protests. He only got in because he had "no gear, just an iPhone." The Bahraini Shia protestors on the spot taught him how to mask where he was when connecting to the internet, by using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

All this led John to start his news agency. He "spent about a year researching" it. He and his wife had sold their flats, and "put all of our money into it, over £100k... eventually I will get paid. I hope."

Verifeye Media built an app that "gathers a lot of info that I need." As well as metadata including the date, who took the photo, when, which direction the photographer was facing and so on," this includes a "veracity rating" showing the contributor's "digital profile for last ten years... the stories they've worked on."

In addition to the app, there's what John calls "the human journalist algorithm". He says: "Every story is approved by me. We reject far more than we publish... the machines can't tell if it's produced by Assad's propaganda people." Who are the eyewitnesses who provide the images? While 90 per cent of contributors are freelance journalists, "eyewitnesses produce a disproportionate amount of content."

The latter are "refugees, aid workers in NGOs, people living in Aleppo... anybody who has the ability to take out their smartphone and document it." During March's Calais "Jungle" clearances, a Verifeye contributor, an aid worker living there, was up earlier than the journalists and shot "60 seconds of heavily armoured cops battering a pregnant woman... Only they could get it."

Verifeye currently "work with someone we don't know" from The Berm, a sealed-off strip of the Jordanian border with a refugee camp behind a vast sand wall. John was able to verify his footage and send it to Channel Four. "We anonymise all of our contributors - Channel Four know everything we do except who it's from."

Verifeye's clients "have to pay for it there and then... before they download it." One outlet first "wanted us to become a 'preferred supplier' and so on and so on". When Verifeye declined, "they suddenly found a credit card in the office."

Verifeye's eyewitness journalists are always paid "within seven days, usually the same day." Its contracts are in plain English, no "heretofore" or "whereas". They "normally sell stuff for £200" of which Verifeye takes 50 per cent.