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Hypergene MediaBlog » Can 'Citizen Journalists' Really Produce Readable Content?
All about Participatory Journalism - how audiences are changing the future of news and information.
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Can 'Citizen Journalists' Really Produce Readable Content?

Steve Outing has a piece that begins to address some of the more pesky problems of citizen media - credibility. With more and more questions being raised about Wikipedia’s credibility, now is probably as good time as any to face the issue at large.

"If a news organization (or entrepreneur, for that matter) is to have a citJ initiative succeed, there are some steps to be taken to ensure adequate quantity of citizen-submitted content, as well as quality,” said Outing.
We couldn’t agree more. The build-it-and-they-will-come- news-site-of-your-dreams is just that - a dream, which is well summed up by Rich Gordon, an associate professor of journalism at Northwestern University and the faculty advisor behind the school’s GoSkokie.com, citJ Web site:

"If you don’t have a well-developed strategy to populate the site with content of interest to people, you will end up with a site full of junk. Hard as it is to get people to visit a citizen journalism site for the first time, you don’t want them to come and decide it’s not worth coming back."
(Perhaps the most troubling observation of Outing’s is that mundanity could turn out to be a greater threat.)

Steve had recently broken a finger, which made typing difficult. So he asked if we could send along some thoughts via email. We were honored to oblige:

"To get the best content,” says Willis, “I do believe people will have to be compensated. News companies had a chance to get a lot of participation for free, but as blog networks begin to get bought up by the likes of AOL, the New York Times or News Corp., a value for influential online voices is being set. That’s a genie that won’t be going back into the bottle anytime soon."
The reality of writing an article is bound by three things: Deadlines, length and being able to write transition to all the exceedingly insightful comments your subjects sent you.

For those interested, here are a few other responses that weren’t lucky enough to make the cut:

"News companies and those starting citizen journalism endeavors need to understand that media is becoming more of a social entity. As in any social environment, there are participants who serve different roles in the creation, consumption, sharing and transformation. This is giving rise to information ecosystems, such as the blogosphere, which we are just starting to recognize and understand."
Q: I’m curious if you think that citJ sites will play a big role in obituaries. (See Steve’s piece on the topic.)

“Experimenting with obituaries is an excellent place to start. Paid obituaries, though still closer to classifieds, have traditionally been one of the few example of citizen content that sits in the newspaper. It’s a perfect opportunity to both experiment with new forms of storytelling and improve the product and value to the customer.

There is still value in getting a mention of a loved one in the newspaper. Print the name and link to the online obit. There you could offer not only a means to publish a story and photos but offer writing/editing services, links to stories about a person, job or school they attended, etc.

From what I’ve observed working in the online news industry and, most recently Ancestry.com, is that you need to know your customer like never known them before.

The online world is interactive. Journalists and editors probably need to start by getting a better grasp of the Internet and then start visiting people in their homes or places of work and see how they interact with news sites and their products (ethnography).

There is little hard evidence to suggest that your average citizen is interested in being a journalist in the traditional sense. What we do know is that people are seeking different kind of relationship to media and the companies or people that create media. Experiment with how you can engage everyone to participate in a way that makes sense and is rewarding to them."

As of today, Technorati was measuring more than 20 million blogs. Even if the vast majority is less than credible or less than compelling, the message is becoming more clear every day: People are driven to create and collaborate. The Internet is a social media and a conduit through which we will continue to see in some instances and an acceleration of cultural, legal, social and technical change or a renewal of rules we already knew.

Posted on Oct 26, 2005 | 3:05 am EST

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