What You Had to Say About ‘Citizen Journalism’

My recent article here on Poynter Online, “The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism,” generated a lot of e-mail back to me — comments, feedback, and tips about projects and trends I didn’t mention.

In the spirit of the topic, I’m including the great information that people sent me on this webpage. The information significantly adds to the discussion already underway in the feedback area. And as the citizen-journalism ethos demands, the writer of an article does not know it all; readers should be able to add what they know, in order to enhance and supplement the original piece.

(I decided not to rewrite the original article with reader follow-up information, because I felt that would be too confusing. Subsequent readers of the “11 Layers” article will be pointed here. Additional tips from readers will be added to this supplementary article as I receive them.)

‘Citizen journalism’ isn’t the best name


(6-14-05) I heard from numerous people about the choice of the term “citizen journalism.” For now, it’s the most commonly used term for what also has been called “personal,” “individual,” “participatory,” or “grassroots” media. And even though I used it in the “11 Layers” article and elsewhere in my writing on the topic, I’m not convinced that it’s the best term.

Most who dislike the “citizen journalism” label point out that it seems to imply that professional journalists are not citizens. They worry that people will read the term that way, rather than what’s really meant: citizens practicing amateur journalism.

Add your pictures here


(6-14-05) NowPublic.com is an interesting experiment that takes advantage of a couple elements discussed in my 11 Layers articles. First, it’s a citizen-media site that anyone can post an original story to. The innovation comes in a system that allows anyone to add a text report or a photo to the original report.

In some cases, someone has posted a text article alone — say, a report about a local festival. Then, people who took photos at the event can add their photos to the original report. This is an interesting implementation of the “add-on” idea discussed in 11 Layers. It makes it easy for people to add on to an original report, whether the original was created by an amateur/citizen or a professional journalist.


When professionals become ‘citizens’


(6-14-05) Paul Conley, who blogs about the trade press, notes a trend where professional journalists are turning into “citizen journalists.” An example can be found at Baristanet.com, a neighborhood site edited by Debbie Galant, long-time Jersey columnist for the New York Times. Another is the international edition of Ohmynews.com, which also has professional journalists among its many “citizen reporters,” writing for free or for very low fees.

Or take Coastsider.com, a citizen-journalism site edited by former news executive Barry Parr. The site seeks contributions from community members in the coastal Peninsula area south of San Francisco — but those have been sparse so far and Parr has turned out to be the site’s chief reporter, frequently breaking local news that the monopoly community weekly (the Half Moon Bay Review) has missed. Parr says of his site: “It’s more heavily edited than the typical citizen-journalism site and has loftier goals.”

Is it “citizen” journalism when a pro does it? When Galant publishes on her own time, is that citizen journalism, even though she’s really a professional journalist?

Perhaps there is a place in my 11 Layers taxonomy for this in-between status: part pro, part “citizen.”

Don’t forget discussion forums


(6-14-05) Dan Gillmor, who wrote The Book on citizen/grassroots media, says that I left out some of the truly bottom-up stuff that’s going on in grassroots media, especially discussion lists and forums. “There’s real journalism going on there, too,” he says.

By that, he means discussion forums where people discuss narrow topics; they’re typically populated by people who are passionate about and/or experts on the topic. The people who populate such online gathering places often introduce new ideas or break news that’s not been reported elsewhere. You can consider that to be part of the citizen/grassroots journalism movement.

Hello, Deep Blog


(6-14-05) The site DeepBlog.com is compiling a list of local citizen-journalism sites. It’s U.S.-heavy right now, with a few listings from Canada, and only one from Asia — but a promise of more coming from elsewhere in the world. Take a look, as the site lists some initiatives that I did not include in the 11 Layers article.

Student journalists …


(6-14-05) Jack Driscoll of MIT Media Lab points out an interesting initiative that’s within the realm of citizen/grassroots journalism. For the last four years, La Republicca‘s Kataweb site has been publishing about 6,000 middle- and high-school online newspapers from 84 cities in Italy. When a student comes up with a particularly good story, it goes on the homepage. “It’s not unusual for those stories to be the buzz in Italy, I’m told,” he says. The Estado Media Group in Sao Paulo, Brazil, does something similar with about 100 high schools.

… And senior journalists


(6-14-05) Driscoll also says the “SilverStringers” are worth a mention in a discussion of citizen journalism, in part because they’ve been at this citizen-journalism game for so long — 10 years now. Senior citizens in Melrose, Massachusetts, have been publishing the Melrose Mirror, an online publication sponsored by the MIT Media Lab and operated by the Melrose Senior Center. Anyone can contribute an article to the site.

Driscoll says the online publication has been the model for many other senior and teen grassroots-publishing sites, including the Junior Journal, which operated for more than six years — with no adult involvement other than Driscoll serving as advisor — before closing recently. He’s currently involved with Rye Reflections, another seniors community news site in his hometown of Rye, New Hampshire.

Interns as citizen journalists


(6-14-05) You might think of journalism students as “citizen journalists.” Indeed, at new citizen-media websites, tapping this pool of willing and able volunteer contributors could be a way to get the ball rolling in terms of content submissions.

Some of them surely will want to write blogs, so citizen-journalism sites might want to consider organizing some kind of “virtual internships,” suggests Dennis Jerz, who administers a collection of academic blogs for faculty and students at Seton Hall University. That’s a way to encourage promising student journalists and “make them think seriously about how they can develop their talents,” he says, “moving them from personal rants to quality research and reporting.”

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