Monday, June 30, 2008

6/5: Briefing on Citizen Journalism

Some semi-random notes from our large-group morning session: Hey! That's the outfit sponsoring the web side of the South Dakota Horizons project! South Dakota's 21 sites in the project are among 150+ such "visioning projects" in the upper Plains. Our speaker says the project is having "mixed success."

One fun characterization of what community websites do: "Random Acts of Journalism."

Visualizing the news is a big deal.
  • offers a pothole map where readers can mark potholes. Visual and interactive!
  • Charticles: combine text, photos, and graphics. Print media love 'em; we can turbocharge them online.
  • J-Lab launched a "Fix Your Commute" project in Everett, Washington, that gave commuters a clickable map to give their input on traffic problems.
News games: combine fantasy football with your state legislature, let people bet on and trade bills before your House and Senate.

Food chain metaphor: perhaps citizen journalism is the plankton to the big media whales. I'd really rather not be the green gunk in anyone's baleen, but the metaphor does suggest a healthier metaphor, more of an ecosystemic partnership. The whales don't just eat us; they need us to thrive and be everywhere. An ocean with nothing but whales is a dead ocean.

Parajournalism: The Fort Myers News-Press (another Gannett paper with the same online template as the Sioux Fall Argus Leader) is trying out citizen writers. They called for applications, got 100, accepted 20, did a little training, and now have these volunteers going about getting stories for the online edition. We can see similar efforts at (Colorado) and (Chicago suburbs). Such efforts are "high-touch" (that term again!), requiring very active mentoring, editing, and support.

Former journalists are getting in the act, too: see the New Haven Independent and

Community Journalism Characteristics: Whoever's doing it, here are some characteristics you'll recognize among the citizen journalists:
  • Passion for community and strong sense of place.
  • Paying attention to their community.
  • Feel their community is underserved by other media.
  • Had journalism "done to them" at some point.
  • High ethics.
Citizen journalism and democracy: what a pair! We are good for democracy. The Knight Foundation attributes increased voter turnout to the efforts of The Forum in Deerfield, New Hampshire. One of their big features (which turned into a print edition) was a municipal election feature. The Forum founder Maureen Mann was also asked by her neighbors to run for legislature! (Mann won the special election last January. Wow -- public school teacher and online journalist in public office... could be a dangerous combo!)

Note also the abovementioned Everett commuter map project: 2500 people gave their input. You just can't get input like that at the typical public meeting. No one is saying get rid of public meetings, but online journalism and even government-sponsored outreach efforts offer more channels for gathering information on which citizens and officials can base their decisions.

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