Monday, December 10, 2007

Citizen journalism is a dumb name

In the last couple of weeks a number of current and former colleagues - senior online editors on some of the largest news sites in Australasia - have directed me to Steve Outing's recent column titled An Important Lesson About Grassroots Media.

Their polite, but pointed reasoning is that as someone who's responsible for a network of regional news sites and who has for some time talked up the opportunities around online community publishing (it gets called UGC in some quarters), I should be aware that it's a highly risky endeavour.

All right. I am.

I actually think it has always been wrong to think of so called citizen journalists as full time reporters or replacements for journalists. That was never going to happen. The two things - user generated content and professionally generated content - need to coexist.

Steve Outing's experiment is a good illustration. Pure community reporting as a business model was always going to struggle. The real question is what part does it play in the content mix on a quality site? Is it emphasised alongside professional reporting, or is it something that forms an important part of the backdrop to a site?

My feeling is that for major news sites community contribution has to be there but professional journalism is the key driver. For regional news sites the weighting and mix may lean more towards the community contribution model.

Professional reporting and editing remain at the core though.

As for the term "citizen journalism", at worst it's misleading and at best less than useful in an Australian context. Jeff Jarvis has been talking about networked journalism as an alternative. I don't think this adequately describes what we're talking about either. But either way the debate would benefit from some clearer thinking around what it is we're talking about when we discuss the involvement of our readers in the publishing activity on our sites.

1 comment:

mhjones said...

G'day Hugh,

I reckon one of the biggest problems is that we can confuse reporting with community-oriented discussions. Reporting, whether it's by a professional or a "citizen", is the function of assembling and crafting facts into a narrative. On the other hand, discussions or "conversations" are often sparked by news reporting or the opinions of bloggers etc.

I think the term "citizen journalism" is actually a good name in that its meaning is obvious. Trouble is that we've not seen too many good examples of where it works well - the only one I can think of is Korea's OhMyNews. And the interesting thing about that outfit is that they clearly label what is news and what is opinion - so they operate in a fashion similar to other media.

Another point worth mentioning is that "citizen journalism" has been a smoke-screen for "news aggregation". Now, clearly there's value in link blogs and the like, but to call news aggregation sits examples of citizen journalism doesn't account for the distinctly different work of professional or amateur journalists.

Mark Jones