Online Journalism Blog

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A panel discussion on citizen journalism at this weekend's gathering of the Associated Press Managing Editors revealed that while there are many pros for editors in choosing to create user-created content, there are also several obstacles that the industry will have to deal with.

According to this AP story via the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the main obstacle for editors will be trying to find some way to hold on to these citizen reporters and a way to not let them have too much freedom with their stories. Other questions brought up included whether or not to allow "unvetted forum postings, whether an online-citizen paper would consider being added to a mainstream paper's Web site, and why an editor of a traditional paper...would share content freely with a citizen site."

One of the sites mentioned in the article is that of The Forum of Deerfield, New Hampshire. The site focuses on local politics and news throughout the community and keeps a nearly exclusive online presence (the paper does go print for a few times each year). Armed with a group of volunteer reporters with press badges and business cards, the Forum has a hyper-local style is something that many regional papers may take on in an attempt to keep their print versions relevant and to enhance their online pages.

But you also wonder how much time do these volunteers have? A look at the AP piece makes you believe that the main reason that most volunteer reporters eventually stop is because of their day jobs. What kind of incentives can online-citizen sites give to their writers to keep them from bolting?

In this case, a partnership with a bigger, more mainstream paper may be good in terms of providing monetary incentives to the writers and resource support for both them and the 'front office'. It could also help the editors with the administrative side and determining how much leeway the citizen reporters can have. Of course, the citizen reporters' local slants can provide the big-city reporters invaluable tips and town events for feature stories and to break big ones. As long as the locals are able to keep the ability to stay relatively independent, a partnership like that would be a successful symbiosis.


  • One thing about the area that the Forum covers that you might not know is that there is no newspaper there.

    Many citizen journalism sites are competing with nothing. What you're seeing is like a volunteer fire department that serves a rural area where a fulltime pro fire department can't be deployed. They're the "Volunteer Media Corps."

    As far as control issues go, I think each party having their own site isn't such a bad idea. Lots of papers want people to come and create content on their site, but then they worry about what people will say: and the people using the site are always worrying -- "can I write this?" If you make people worry about whether they can do something, the result is simple: they don't do anything.

    Now if those folks have their own blog, they write what they want on their own site where they make the rules, and the paper gets to decide whether to link to or quote what's written there. It gives the maximum degree of freedom and control to both parties in the informational transaction.

    By Blogger Lisa, at 10:29 PM  

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