It goes to eleven: stacking on the clutter of "citizen journalism" analysis

Lexicon | Media
On Monday, Steve Outing of the Poynter Institute stacked up the eleven layers of citizen journalism. Stack may be the wrong word– that’s mine– but layers isn’t exactly right, if we are thinking about network communications layers. They’re eleven concepts used to frame a number of concepts related to the new media called citizen journalism, with some helpful examples. But it can use a little more work. Here’s my citizen additions.

A funny thing– there’s an error on the page that hasn’t been updated yet (a link to the Salt Lake Tribune is identified as being to the Spokane Spokesman-Review). Outing asked for examples, so I’ve sent him, but the original pieces hasn’t been updated (as #2 would suggest) He did write a separate follow-up to his piece, but that doesn’t really take advantage of the new medium, doesn’t?

Outing pressess reporters to ask the questions of the public first, and then write (#3). And he did that, posting earlier in the day a question about about whether “citizen journalism” was the best term– other terms have been proposed to describe the new media: personal/participatory/grassroots/etc. Mike Gordon, a former reporter who’s now a program manager at Microsoft, plainly objected that “it implies that journalists are somehow different from citizens.” Outing didn’t mention this in his main piece, so in the feedback to that, Donald Myers, the Editorial Page Editor of the Central Utah Daily Herald, raised the exact same objection. Outing then immediately responded conceded that he only used it as “it’s the most used term to describe this new slice of journalism/media” before directing readers to a post of Staci Kramer’s to continue the discussion. And there the discussion died, so the term persists.

Also, in the comments to the preview piece, career journalist Paul Conley pointed out that Outing should recall Chris Nolan’s concept of “stand-alone journalism.” After all, as I recalled, it was only a year ago when Outing wrote of her idea: “I think this could catch on!” If he himself actually had a part in helping it catch on, I’d forgive him for that.

But forgive me, for now. I was only trying to participate in the two-way conversation (#1).

Indeed, I’ve gotten pushback and vibes from some of the big names in this field that I’m too picky. Perhaps I’m not constructive enough. Then again, I actually I have an alternative theory which ties together most of the ideas in new media that everyone’s talking about. It’s called constructive media.

The essence of citizen journalism is this: there’s good stuff in the clutter that’s written by folks who don’t write professionally for a living. And part of constructive media tries to solve is about creating the conditions to promote it to the people who need to read it.

Now If I may deconstruct Outing’s stack first:

1. Opening up to public comment. "Two-way conversation is an imperative characteristic of most citizen journalism, yet it appears to remain threatening to many people in the journalism and publishing professions."

Well, it just doesn’t scale for the popular writers: when I counted a year ago, David Brooks was getting 200 forum posts for every column– and that doesn’t count private emails, letters to the editor, blog posts, etc.

2. The citizen add-on reporter. "I mean that with selected stories, solicit information and experiences from members of the public, and add them to the main story to enhance it."

Outing can’t come up with an example of this. The Times does this online (here’s this week’s), but doesn’t update the articles. Again, this could be a flood of information at that scale. Slate does this by including selections from The Fray on many article.

3. Open-source reporting. "Announce that you want to go into the interview armed with questions submitted by your readers. Pick out the best ones, add your own, then do the interview."

Well, who wants to spill the beans on who they’re interviewing?

On the other hand, for noteable interviews:
The Nieman Foundation solicits questions for government officials.
Here’s the Civilities solution, the QuestionScoreboard from a year ago.

Outing’s larger aim is to find: "a collaboration between a professional journalist and his/her readers on a story, where readers who are knowledgeable on the topic are asked to contribute their expertise…" Isn’t this what already happens in journalism?

4. The citizen bloghouse. "Citizen bloggers, because they’re usually volunteers, can’t be counted on to keep a blog filled with content consistently or for very long. … Paying citizen bloggers — even if it’s a token amount…"

The Boston Globe now has "citizen" bloggers for their job blog… sort of. It’s so consistent, it’s hardly a blog. I assume they are paid some tokens. does this count?

5. Newsroom citizen ‘transparency’ blogs. "A reader panel can be empowered via a publicly accessible blog to serve as citizen ombudsmen, of a sort, offering public commentary on how the news organization is performing."

The Spokesman-Review’s News is a Conversation group blog is a terrific example of this, which is why I’m researching it.

6. The stand-alone citizen-journalism site: Edited version. "An advantage of sites like this is that citizens can cover issues and events that local mainstream media ignore."

There still is the small gesture of appealing to the new gatekeepers

"If you as a community member think that your fellow citizens should know about a stop sign that was knocked down and the county government won’t fix"

Some time ago e-gov websites were conceived of for such a purpose. Certainly these sites should be augmented to allow for public petitioning in case the government doesn’t act. The only reason journalism ever got involved in this was because the government was in the mass communications business.

7. The stand-alone citizen-journalism site: Unedited version. "Also worth considering is having a script written that automatically takes down an item when, say, at least three people click the misconduct button "

The county government may catch on to the squelch trick if people complain about stop signs knocked down.

I’m not a lawyer and I’d urge you to consult one for specific advice, but a citizen-journalism Web site publisher may be on safer legal ground by not being in a position of editing every submission.

Curiously, Backfence’s user agreement asserts ownership of every submission for promotional purposes, but not for liability purposes, I suppose. I’m not a lawyer but this seems to dampen the community aspects a bit.

8. Add a print edition. "However, there is a school of thought that having a print edition as part of a citizen-journalism venture is sort of ‘retrograde.’"

I’d say so. What people want in print are what print does best: great graphic spreads, catchy layouts, dense print (such as arts & entertainment listics).

9. The hybrid: Pro + citizen journalism. "OhmyNews treats its citizen reporters as though they are journalists (albeit low-paid ones)."

That’s a relief. My low-paid journalist friends feel sometimes like they are treated as slave labor.

But Korea’s OhMyNews is certainly an interesting model.

10. Integrating citizen and pro journalism under one roof. "Imagine, then, a news Web site comprised of reports by professional journalists directly alongside submissions from everyday citizens."

Wasn’t this #9? Is there a local newspaper in this country which doesn’t allow reader columns? I submitted such an article last year, and the Brookline TAB, an organ of the Community Newspaper Company, ran it. Of course, it was one user-contributed column of about five that weak, and was in buried in the lower-left hand corner. The only person who noticed it was my company’s PR person, who monitors when their name gets in the papers.

"This is the model that perhaps gets closest to what citizens’-media pioneers like Jeff Jarvis and Dan Gillmor espouse"

What has Jeff Jarvis pioneered in citizen’s media other than certain buzzwords?* He certainly has promoted it. Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere may yet be pioneering. But the “under one roof” already exists– it’s just that the more prominent roofs in an area have high standards and too many people who want to get in.

11. Wiki journalism: Where the readers are editors. "It’s an experimental concept operating on the theory that the knowledge and intelligence of the group can produce credible, well-balanced news accounts. … Traditional news organizations are unlikely to copy WikiNews…"

Who’s theory is that? Well, the LA Times bought didn’t exactly copy it, but we’re still trying to find out exactly what Michael Kinsley was thinking with the term wikitorials.

*Note: In this piece I had questioned the pioneer status of Jeff Jarvis. I am mistaken.

I’ve been reading Pablo Boczkowski’s book Digitizing the News, which discusses the experience of the New Jersey Online website. This site was produced by Advance Internet– the online division of the Advance Publications, which owns the major papers in the state– whose president was Jeff Jarvis. Boczkowski interviewed Jarvis for the book at had focused on’s “Community Connections” section which set up home pages for nonprofits. I was also in New Jersey at that time, and created a webzine of my own in college. I recall at the time, and the only thing I remember about it was that it might have had beach cams at the Jersey Shore.

How had I neglected this? Jarvis’s brief biography on his blog doesn’t mention it along with the traditional media companies he’s been involved. “New Jersey Online” (or or “NJ Online”) aren’t mentioned anywhere on his blog. There’s 616,000 mentions of “Jeff Jarvis” on Google. Less than 50 include New Jersey Online or NJ Online. One such account in the ASNE New Media Committee report, written by Jarvis, explains how NJO developed The Yuckiest Site on the Internet for the Liberty Science Center, and then split up over creative and business differences. Jarvis concluded: “Still, along the way, we all learned lessons and came away wiser. if not richer.” That’s a pioneer– learning the hard lessons.