Formalizing Citizen Journalism
March 31, 2011 1 Comment
Citizen Journalists come in two major categories. The first is an accidental journalist, or a person who just happens to be at the scene of an event. This person will record the event, or portions of the event, for later analysis by potentially a global audience. The second are those who intentionally seek out events, and provide their own analysis (along with raw source materials) of events. This person will often act as a “non-credentialed” alternative to “professional” journalists. Let’s call them “Enthusiast Citizen Journalists.”
Through the magic of an Internet-connected world, now even citizen journalists have resources available online to bring more training to supplant their efforts, bringing much more credibility to the blogging and user-provided news content community.
In the era of print journalism, much of the content form was driven by available space, as well as being influenced by advertising. Newspapers and news magazines had strict rules on fact checking, form, style, and story structure. Blogging and Internet news sources, given the nature of computer screens, real-time updates, and global access forced change in how media is gathered, managed, and presented.
However the publisher’s intent remains the same – present the news in a format that will grab a reader’s attention, keep them reading, and sell advertising. Oh, and keep the reader coming back for more…
The Citizen Journalist and Online Media
Citizen Journalism changes the rules. Now, anybody who can figure out the basics of WordPress or Blogger is a publisher. With several million people already blogging in some form, that is a lot of “stuff” for the Internet-enabled community to slog through in an attempt to discover useful information. it is increasingly difficult to discriminate between fact, opinion, propaganda, or simply the bizarre ramblings of a chemically-enhanced former actor’s mind.
There is good news. The “old” publishing industries and broadcast media have started embracing the idea that both accidental journalists and enthusiast journalists have not only a role to play, but are now being accepted as offering valuable contributions to the news industry. This is very apparent when you watch broadcast news, look at online news sources, or even print media. Nearly every news organization actively solicits input from citizens, whether on-the-scene reports via Skype, or simply uploading pictures and videos to a web site.
However until this point the “old” media has used citizen input as a raw news source, normally providing analysis and commentary on the citizen-provided materials with “professional” journalists.
Training the Citizen Journalist, and Gaining Credibility at the Source
Nearly every university has at least one course introducing concepts of journalism. However in the old days (pre ~2010) there was little incentive or justification for taking much more than an introductory course in journalism – unless of course you were planning a career in the journalism industry. Now, in a world of social media, online everything, blogging, and complex corporate websites, nearly everybody who works is starting to see the need to understand how to think and write at a level which can be understood by a global-connected audience.
Management sections at bookstores (those few remaining) have a large shelf dedicated to the theory of selling yourself, your company, and your future through the Internet. There is a strong message to professionals that emphasizes the need to “publish” expertise through blogs and online media.
Then we have the enthusiast citizen journalist (ECJ). Armed with a digital camera, digital voice recorder, laptop computer, and desire to seek out events (and record them…), the ECJ wants to fill in the gaps left when traditional news media edits or determines what the reader/viewer community needs to know. However, the bad part is few ECJs actually have enough training to present their stories in a way average readers or viewers can accept or absorb.
To help meet this need, the educational community, and news media community have started providing good quality training online to ECJs that will help bring a much higher levels of quality and form to blogs and ECJ-provided content.
Much of the online training is very citizen journalist aware, much of it is trying to push a “round citizen journalist peg” into a “square traditional journalism hole.” In either case the training gives each potential ECJ, or even professional striking out into the blogging world a refresher course in writing for an audience. All network-enabled writers need reminders and practical exercises on how to gather, present, and explain events. All ECJs and bloggers need to know how to create a feature or story allowing not only presentation of an idea, but also to allow for opinion and editorial – without generating low-value noise.
If you are an aspiring ECJ, professional who needs to provide a blogging presence, or simply want to explore the technique and craft of new media journalism, take a look at some of the following training resources. Some are free, some are not.
- Knight Citizen News Network. The Knight Citizen News Network is a self-help portal that guides both ordinary citizens and traditional journalists in launching and responsibly operating community news and information sites.
- Poynter News University. Poynter is a school that exists to ensure that Americans have access to excellent journalism—the kind of journalism that enables us to participate fully and effectively in our democracy.
- Journalism Training Org. A directory of local training venues.
- National Association of Citizen Journalists. NACJ membership and training empowers citizen journalists for the exciting task of discovering, writing and reporting news with a level of professionalism that was once the standard in major media outlets.
Lots more available via a Google search…
And, of course we’d expect the academic community to embrace the potential given to us through Internet-enabled technologies, and further diffuse online journalism training into the educational curriculum for students, better preparing the next generations to fully exploit the power of images, videos, and words.
With all types of citizen journalism, the global community will have much greater access to unfiltered events either as they happen, or shortly afterward. Nearly every person on the planet has the ability to be an accidental citizen journalist, and most of us the ability to become an ECJ. In the past our quality of reporting has often been marginal, but in the future we will evolve, through training, to better meet the challenges and opportunities offered by a global audience.