Why Everybody is a Reporter

Citizen journalists go mainstream

| August 25, 2005

The face of media is changing, and you might have seen it at the grocery store or bus stop. Armed with modern technology -- such as phones equipped to send video and access the web -- citizen journalists are drifting into the mainstream, Allison Romano writes for Broadcasting & Cable. Established news organizations are caught in the middle, unable to ignore the angles citizens offer and uncertain how to handle eager but untrained reporters.

For citizen journalists -- private individuals who contribute to gathering and producing news -- technology is the enabler. In addition to facilitating the rise of blogs and other 'mini news organizations,' Romano notes that technology can make short work of contributing to major media outlets. Images captured on cell phones illuminated the aftermath of the bombings this summer in London, and the unique coverage ushered in a flurry of cell phone submissions.

The trend of public submission is accelerating because news organizations have begun to encourage it, Romano says. Newsrooms solicit content, in part, because the scoop-driven industry can't afford to ignore timely contributions. But citizen journalists also produce 'hyper-local' content -- at the neighborhood and town level -- and news organizations see public participation as a cost-effective way to improve depth of coverage.

Locally driven participation resonates with consumers who feel distanced from mainstream coverage. 'There are other people besides journalists that have a voice,' one blogger told Romano. News organizations are willing to experiment: The cable network Current boasts about 25 percent 'viewer-created content,' while the British Broadcasting Corporation hopes to have community reporters generate one-fifth of the content for 60 new stations.

Having citizen journalists participate requires caution, Romano warns. Citizen journalists lack formal training and the resources of a traditional newsroom. Media organizations that use public submissions are faced with enacting a new level of quality control, both to verify authenticity and eliminate errors.

By contrast, some news organizations are proactively addressing the influx of citizen journalists. In one example, a Nashville television station hosted a workshop to train bloggers in video production. In addition to improving -- presumably -- the quality of submissions, the workshop gave the network a chance to screen potential sources and foster relationships with promising candidates.
-- Julie Hanus

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