In the aftermath of Katrina, mainstream news media sites — local or national and international — are doing a poor job trying to attract citizen journalist submissions, or shall we say, motivating citizens to submit journalism.
Basically, their message is similar to this Day One snapshot from CNN: “Has Katrina affected you? E-mail us your story, photos and video.” That’s it. If the MSM outlet chooses to accept it (based on some unstated editorial standard), they will annex the submission into an area on the site called “Your Stories and Images.” This section is usually a gallery of of photos, and one really long web page with text-based stories. Or they might just dump it into a forum, where it’s a free-for-all of unmoderated user submissions.
What exactly is the compelling motivation for a citizen journalist? Aside from the obvious “Cool! They used my photo on CNN” moment, there isn’t much of one. With big stories, it seems that nearly every outlet in the MSM is hoping to lure submissions from citizen journalists. But the MSM needs to do better than a “Share Your Hurricane Story” hyperlink as a call to action.
Here’s what the MSM could do to attract submissions:
1. Integrate the citizen journalism coverage into the galleries, stories, online presentation and perhaps even the offline product. As Steve Outing suggested earlier this week, “In a story like this, there will be citizen photos that are more powerful than what the pros come up with. So why not mix them up to produce a hurricane-image gallery made up of the best photographs, period?” Doing this is a statement by the MSM outlet that they find these submissions newsworthy.
2. Pay citizen journalists for the best submissions, and maybe retain exclusive rights to display that submission on your site. Again, the ever-wise Steve Outing beat us on this one as well, in this post, Prepare to Pay Citizen Journalists
3. Reward the best citizen journalists with modest prizes that will promote idea of citizen journalism to others: like a CNN Citizen Journalist T-shirt or mug.
4. Highlight the work of particularly good citizen journalists, and write a mini-profile on them - again, online or in the offline product.
5. Identify good citizen journalists and offer them free journalism training. Maybe assign them a mentor with the organization. Develop a relationship with them.
6. Promote in the offline products - TV, print - that you accept submissions online, and not just on major news events. Do what MSNBC did, and develop an area on the site dedicated to citizen journalism.
7. Perhaps just being more specific about what the MSM new outlet is looking for might generate better results. Yes, we know. They’ll take any CJ submission. But the example below from AOL, which came two days after Katrina hit land, shows highly targeted submission request, with broad appeal, “Send Your Gas Price Photos”. Seems more likely to be successful, and frankly, more realistic.
Terminology question: It would be interesting to see someone out there test how the words “citizen journalist” affect submissions. How many people out there in the Internet audience know what that means? Does it add some level of credibility, in their minds, to their submission?
We’ve heard that Internet readers/viewers/newsconsumers/etc. are not huge fans of this term. Has anyone heard similar complaints?
More on the term ‘citizen journalist’ - that’s the thing, see. You can’t just throw a term like that out there. You have to be having a conversation at that point. To me, it seemed more like, “Hey, give us all the good stuff you got so we can do what we want with it.”
CNNFOXABCMSNBCGOOGLEYAHOO isn’t a conversation. Conversations perhaps happen, but they’re isolated. CNN.com et al seems like an automaton (SP?) rather than a human being.
Once I explain it to them - we’re about helping you tell your stories and communicate online - they’re all for it. There has to be a personal touch.
There is no I in ‘team’ but there is in ‘citizen journalist’ ;)
I’m probably going to post more on this over at J-Log. Don’t hold me to that, tho...
p.s. i like the ‘realword’ graphic letters anti-spam thing (i can’t think of the name at the moment) - i noticed it takes a lot less time to type in the ‘code’ when it’s not random. not as irritating to the humans maybe…
p.p.s. heh. your error page just gave me the name - captcha…
The terminology is still settling in—CJ, personal journalism, whatever. Even my journalism students have trouble with the relating the term and the concept.
As you wrote, MSM needs to do a better job of pushing the concept (but probably not the term itself) that it values contributions not ‘cause they’re cute and trendy, but because it’s part of the newsgathering. And they have to remember that those who have pictures to share and stories to tell don’t need MSM to get them out.
Better still, MSM needs to be active: don’t just invite it, designate someone to sit on the web and go find it.
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