New models of journalism: Volume 2

22 Dec

In this second part, I will focus on citizen journalism/crowd sourcing as a new model of journalism and the different aspects of this subject. Is citizen journalism good or bad for the future of news?

Citizen journalism occurs when tasks that were originally done by journalists, becomes open to a large group of people. This way the public becomes invited to do tasks that were only done by professionals before, such as newsgathering. This is very interesting because literally everyone is invited to have a shot at what the professionals do and maybe see if they can do a better job. Also, it is a cheaper way of doing journalism because the public is not educated to do this job and thus people are getting paid less or sometimes even do it for free.

Citizen journalism started to explode in the United States from 2005 and has been evolving ever since. The pioneers on this subject did not intend to make citizen journalism an alternative to hiring professional journalists, but they believed they were building a new kind of community, since they wanted to invite citizens to co-author on different matters such as the life in their towns. Things that citizens could do were neighbourhood news, calendar announcements, audio and video of events and meetings, discussion threads and photos.

After that, bloggers with no media attachments started to create hundreds of local hubs built almost completely upon volunteer user-generated content. This resulted in hyper local information by citizens, connecting other citizens locally, which is a great aspect of citizen journalism. A good example of a website created like this is MyCornwall which is created by people in Cornwall, for people who live in Cornwall. It is a great source of information including audio, video it is good advertising for other business and Cornwall itself. The idea behind this is, why would you spend so much money when you can reach many more through the internet and TV for a fraction of the price?

A similar concept is Thelichfieldblog which is a website made in Lichfield, and is all about providing news daily especially for people around Lichfield and Burntwood, a service that didn’t exist before.

A video made for the website by citizen journalists:

Another example is which is a community website in London that provides news, updates and valuable information for people who live in this area and also, has been made by people who live there. It is really all about citizens taking the roles of professional journalists and making news public that professional journalists do not have as easy access to. Sometimes it is just much easier for citizens to get exclusive information than for outsiders who might not have the right relationships or general abilities to acquire these news stories. Also should be noted that citizens might know better what people in a certain area want to know about, than professionals and thus produce better local coverage.

What can be concluded from these examples is that these websites have an extremely high amount of user generated content that is published onto websites and so the user plays an active role in collecting, reporting and analysing news and information. Moreover, the goal is to provide independent, reliable, and relevant information for the people of a certain area of interest. But, can we say it is good journalism? I would definitely say it is good journalism; maybe the quality isn’t as good as what professional journalists can do but the information can be extremely valuable and you don’t always have journalists at the place of an unpredicted event.

Here you can see a tourist filming a plane and a helicopter crash above the Hudson River, United States. After, numerous TV channels such as ABC have used the footage because none of their own journalists had footage of this event occurring at the exact time of the crash. Also, the footage was made by poor equipment but because it was on the web extremely fast this was not an issue and this is where citizen journalism/crowd sourcing really shines.

Overall, citizen journalism is extremely valuable as they can watch the local governments, help communities solve problems, enhance local news, and most of all provide local information that cannot be found elsewhere.

Another part where citizen journalism really shines is investigative journalism. This is a form of journalism in which reporters investigate a single topic of interest, which mostly involves crime, corruption and political issues. When citizens are doing this, it is sometimes called “watchdog journalism”. I think this is very interesting since citizens who do this are literally watching over what really happens in society, and research different sources to get to the truth.

A website we discussed in our lectures is Propublica who does “journalism in the public interest”. They are an independent, nonprofit newsroom located in Manhattan that produces investigative journalism for the public. Propublica is led by Paul Steiger, and the team consists of 32 journalists, funded by The Sandler Foundation and donations. They cover a wide range of topics that they think people should be aware of, such as Gulf oil spill, Wall Street, gas drilling, the military and the bailouts of companies.

Another website that does investigative journalism is VoiceOfSanDiego which is one of the most ambitious of the nonprofit sites, funded by local foundations. They received 700,000 page views a month in 2007 and are still growing. They are a public-service, nonprofit news organisation that focuses on in-depth and investigative reporting. The issues they cover are politics, educational system, environment, housing, and economy. The thing that makes them stand out is the fact that they only publish a story if they think they can do it better than anyone else or no one else is covering it. This results in higher value news and unique coverage of topics that you cannot get anywhere else, which is why this website is so successful.

All of this leads to my original question, is citizen journalism good or bad for the future of journalism? In short, yes I think this will benefit journalism. Especially because citizen journalism activated another positive facet; reverse publishing. A lot of citizen media sites turn their web content into a print publication, which is called reverse publishing. These print versions have greater appeal both to advertisers and readers. A good example is the website My Missourian who worked together with a daily paper to convert a free Saturday shopper filled with ads into a weekly community newspaper with citizen generated content. Overall, it can be concluded that citizen journalism is good for journalism but as said before, should not replace professional journalism.

On a final note, I found a table with interesting information about what some citizen journalists have contributed in the past.

On New West, serialized novels and MP3 downloads of local bands.

On The Forum in Deerfield, a crafts column and instructions on how to make a quilt and how to repair garden gnomes.

On ibrattleboro, local rumblings to the “Rumors” page.

On Northwest Voice, recipes for locally grown crops.

On Blount County Voice, a series on local historical sites.

On Backfence, local business reviews.

On OlyBlog, comics and a book of memories of Evergreen State College.

On New Haven Independent, profiles of the “Cop of the Week.”

At Arbor Update, tips on living in Ann Arbor without a car.

Journalism technology and the future lectures


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