Posts Tagged 'citizen journalism'

Ultra-ultra local: for the people, by the people

Restoring an old Devon flour mill to full working order for the first times in decades may not have been headline news, but it was big enough to attract about thirty visitors from the surrounding villages on the day, possibly more.

On a bank holiday visit to my parents, we’d stopped off on the way home as my mother wanted to have a look around. Watching a couple of people videoing the mill got me thinking about local news and those who use it.

Us bright young twentysomethings may be changing they way we get our news, be it online, through communities, Twitter, mobile phones and probably, in the future, some kind of Kindle-like application. What’s to say the bright, somewhat older retired communities won’t be doing something similar, albeit in a more specific way.

Let’s back up for a minute here to collect a few thoughts. Firstly, Britain’s retired and elderly populations are growing and will continue to do so. Secondly, they’ve moved away from the stereotype of your grandmother being unable to turn on a computer. Many are extremely active online, have very set, successful, specific communities and are willing to experiment with new tools.

Thirdly, and this is probably the most important thought, they have a lot more time on their hands than the bright young twentysomethings, who’ll as likely be holding down regular jobs while they evangalise about social media. Even if their job is the evangalise, having a job will still naturally limit time available.

And it’s time, mixed with relevant skills, that should worry the media, local newspapers especially.

If experiences growing up in Devon are anything to go by – and assuming they still hold true – there’ll always be a few people in villages and towns who’ll have the get up and go to organise events, whether it’s coffee mornings or something on a much grander scale. They may be one and the same as the people who write the local newsletters (or, as is becoming more frequent, setting up local news blogs). If they’re not, they’ll probably know them.

Along with many others in the village or town vicinity, they’ll have a strong interest in local affairs. Chances are, they’ll probably be involved in many of them at some stage. There’s plenty going on in their community, and they’re usually at the heart of it. You’ll probably know or have known somebody like this.

But while what’s interesting to the local community and the local media often intertwine, the news values are slightly different and it may not always get the coverage. Neither, in an age of under-resourced newsrooms, will staff necessarily be able to go out and cover these events, let alone video them. The story may not even be deemed video-worthy.

Now, think if you’ve got a few recently-retired tech-savvy hearts of the community. They could build their own website or social platform and keep bits and pieces of news up to date – they don’t have to have been a professional journalist (although this may start occurring more frequently).

Now, let’s head back to the flour mill. Perhaps could have used Qik to stream live for anybody who couldn’t make it. Any video footage could then form part of a local community website. They could even create a further video and a small report and other pieces for the community online and bypassing the local media.

This isn’t to say anything the local media did on it wouldn’t be read or viewed, but it’s an interesting piece of competition that perhaps hasn’t been taken into account. Does it sound too fanciful currently? Perhaps. Unrealistic? Definitely not.

In some respects, services like ITV Local, the proposed new BBC local video plans and some – but definitely not all – local newspaper website offer an upload and interact facility. But – and this is no criticism – they are, by necessity, broad umbrellas, even an an ultra-local level. There are ultra-ultra-local levels – and where there’s a niche, there’s the potential for an online community.

It’ll be interesting to see how traditional media copes with a teched-up, locally aware, online-friendly set of (and apologies for the cliche) silver surfers, who if they don’t exist now, surely aren’t too far away.

Again, unless some of the smaller papers get the resources and adapt to cater for this type of audience they could find themselves undone by a new breed of citizen journalists who have the time, inclination and knowledge of the patch. It’s at once a frightening and exhilarating thought.

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Citizen journalism: a rethink needed?

Couple of fascinating posts on citizen journalism on BeetTV and Phil Bronstein on thoughts around citizen journalism. It has not, says Bronstein, taken off on a large scale. He also sums up the current position neatly:

“The whole concept of citizen journalism is still floating around waiting for a good example wave to carry it somewhere, and user-generated material has yet to be a huge hit within the media world unless someone with a Flip catches Brangelina running into a lamp post.”

Let’s up a quick recap first with the Condensed and Possibly Not Entirely Accurate History of Citizen Journalism According To Gary.

So, in the beginning there was the media who had journalists who produced news. There was also the people, and the people generally watched or read the media and the media thought this was largely very agreeable indeed and nobody knew what the people thought because it wasn’t deemed important and those people who did speak were usually retired colonels.

Anyway, then the internet came along and some of the people realised it gave them a chance to say what they thought and a very small percentage of the people tried their hand at journalism and a few of them were actually quite good at it.

Then the media discovered that the internet was important but weren’t quite sure how to handle it because while they were telling because that it was important, they’d noticed a few people were also telling the rest of the people that the internet and other stuff was important. Or, more commonly, telling the media where they’d got things wrong.

Some media tried to engage, others refused but gradually there was a realisation that the people could be useful to the media and that’s roughly where we are now.

The term Citizen Journalism is definitely a little misleading. It conjures up images of wannabe hacks slaving away all day at the internet trying to beat newspapers to the scoop and perhaps for a very short while this was the case. There was even a brief mad scramble by traditional media to sign these bloggers, much like the moment Electroclash was briefly musical genre of the moment and saw Fischerspooner signed to Ministry of Sound for £1m, nearly taking the whole thing down the pan.

That’s passed now, largely (and thankfully). Now the boundaries are a lot less clear. What’s the difference between a journalist and a blogger? Take Shiny Media. These are blogs, but essentially they’re a journalistic outlet that isn’t published in a newspaper or broadcast on the TV. Then you’ve got journalists who specifically work on the web but because it’s on a traditional media’s site it’s classified as journalism and not blogging.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who are definitely not journalists but know more about a specialist topic than journalists and have great contacts, so are essentially out-journalisming the journalists without even intending to.

Then you’ve got the bloggers who aren’t journalists or specialists but once in a while write something newsworthy or happen to be in the right place at the right time (or wrong time, depending on the event) and have something to say which is of interest to everybody.

This is without even touching on the likes of Flickr, Twitter and YouTube for newsgathering purposes. Often these are better than anything traditional media can gather, not because the journalists are bad at their job, but because they happen to be on the ground when the event starts. Jemima Kiss’s post on Twitter and the California Earthquake illustrates this nicely.

Right, so this is where we’re at. Journalism and the web as if painted by Jackson Pollack. Nobody really knows what they are any more, the whole system’s in some kind of blogistential crisis and really, we’d all probably be better off heading home for a cup of tea and a biscuit and forgetting about the whole thing.

But it’s not entirely shot and there a few levellers. Firstly, Citizen Journalism hasn’t killed the media, as was predicted a few years ago. If anything it’s enhanced the quality of news coverage. A Tweet or Flickr picture direct from the scene is invaluable no matter where you’re getting your news from.

Secondly, although you’ll get the odd person trying to make a living out of citizen journalism from the web, the majority of citizen journalists are a one-off. They happen to be by a newsworthy event, they take a picture, Tweet, make a blog post or take a video on their mobile phone. It’s news, and news organisations recognise it as such, even if the person behind it never does another newsworthy thing in their life. 

That its not yet successful on a large scale is not unexpected or necessarily a bad thing. While people appreciate that they can interact with journalists and submit their own ‘newsgathering’ not everybody’s going to want to do it all of the time.

Secondly, although there will always be bloggers and Twitterers writing around breaking news, although they’re not hard to search, it’s easier and less time consuming for the average person having it in a place they regularly visit and, largely, trust. Which is usually the website of traditional media.

Anybody who Tweets or blogs or posts photos about a newsworthy event they’ve seen or are part of are being citizen journalists, yet the term doesn’t quite fit them. They’re involved with the journalism process even if they don’t necessarily know it at the time.

For me, traditional media and citizen journalists have, for the time being, reached a reasonably happy medium. It will change. Things always change, especially when the web’s involved. Who knows, perhaps it will move closer to the traditional view of a citizen journalist. Perhaps it’ll shoot off in a completely different direction. Perhaps not.

But for the time being, we’re all now part of the newsgathering process, whether we like it or not, a journalism s a lot better of for it.

Blogging about a blogger blogging about blogging

Nosemonkey, who runs the excellent Eutopia, has a fascinating post on citizen journalism/blogging, inspired by an emailed question on the subject [1].

[A quick bit of background here, if you haven’t just gone through and read his long piece. On the day of the July 7 bombings, Nosemonkey ended up liveblogging the event due to conflicting reports on news channels, plus the general sense of confusion that abound. It was, and still is, a great example of how blgging and/or citizen journalism can work and is possibly one of the best posts to emerge from the blogosphere].

What’s refreshing is his mixture of cynicism and enthusiasm for blogging. Much as I’m a proponent for all that is Web 2.0, it’s always useful to step back and ask: “So, we can do this. What is it actually achieiving?” In the case of social bookmarking especially it’s a great way to share stories (an update on cutting a story out of the newspaper and passing it onto a friend), find great content, and, for journalists, track what users believe to be important. Slow burning stories can also be picked up this way.

The best blogs too aren’t the ones that claim to be breaking the news or searching for bias, but the ones that have a genuine knowledge and passion for their subject (which is why I think niche sites will be the next big thing, internet wise this year).

And yes, in these cases they often surpass coverage in the traditional media because the blogger is more au fait with the subject than the journalist (assuming the blog isn’t already hosted on a major site). Other citizen journalism is more a case of being in the right place at the right time and happening to have a blog.

The concept of citizen journalism from a few years ago is probably near to vanishing. Those blogs that do, on occasions, break news stories, are largely well-known and well-staffed (and often pick up their sources from other blogs or websites, they just don’t bother running them through the laywers first). More often well-known bloggers use their site as a shop window and earn their corn thanks to their blog but not because of it.

But blogging is still a great medium, whether you’re running a personal blog for three or four friends, covering a niche topic, or attracting a large readership as an expert on the topic. It’s a great way of carrying on the conversation beyond the news article (which I still think should be kept as separate from comment as possible), can provide a great lead for a story, or a change to gauge the depth of feeling if you’re a journo or PR. It also makes it easier to pick up on errors of poor writing.

I’m still positive about the bloggersphere and Web 2.0 as both a journalism and a publicity medium, and it’s great to see the media embracing new trends and experimenting with them, a la Birmingham Post and delicious.

But it still doesn’t hurt to be cynical about the Web. For every trend that works, there’s half a dozen that the media will jump aboard only for it to be a less than stellar success. In some respects you could say the philosophy of scientific testing and paradigm shifts applies just as much to internet trends as it does to biochemistry and physics. Eventually the problems with citizen journalism or a Web 2.0 trend will collapse under the weight of all the problematic rocks that have been thrown at it.

I’m not quite sure what point or conclusion I’m trying to come to here, other than embrace Web 2.0 but also question why, how, and what you want to achieve at every step of the way.

[1] I emailed Nosemonkey with a similar request several years ago when I was doing a similar piece for my postgrad course. If I kept the post from the now defunct Coffee and PC, I’ll post it up here. It’d be interesting to see if his views have changed since then.


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com