May 6, 2005

As I’ve been watching content submitted by the public on some of the new citizenjournalism sites, I definitely see a need for some education and encouragement to get better and more submissions.

No, I don’t mean that we in the news industry need to try to turn all our readers into quasi-professional journalists by training and accrediting them. But I do think that citizen-journalism sites should have resource sections with advice for them on some of the basics: how to write a “lede” paragraph to hook people into reading more; how to select and crop your best photograph; how to write a good headline; how to avoid libeling someone and the personal consequences of being careless; etc.

For local citizen-journalism sites, how about holding in-person training seminars on how to be a better citizen journalist? Find sponsors to fund the event. Give out or sell “I’m a citizen journalist” t-shirts. Promote the seminar in print, online, and/or on the air.

Also, such sites can encourage and guide submissions. Perhaps give out prizes for citizen journalists who submit the best work as determined by the site’s editors (maybe a t-shirt) or other readers based on an article-ranking system (maybe a ringtone).

Citizen-journalism sites also can guide coverage by encouraging people to submit content on specific topics. If there’s a big running race (like the Bolder Boulder where I live, which attracts nearly 50,000 people each year), encourage people to report on it, write up their experiences, and submit their photographs which can be published in a special area of the site.

Citizen journalism need not be boring. But those who run the sites need to work hard to make sure they are interesting.

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Steve Outing is a thought leader in the online media industry, having spent the last 14 years assisting and advising media companies on Internet strategy…
Steve Outing

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