Getting Ready for NYPA Citizen Journalism Talk

Sorry I haven’t had too much to say this week, I’ve been really busy. Right now I’m in Tarrytown, NY right now, getting ready to drive up to Lake Placid. Tomorrow, my I, Reporter colleague Adam Glenn and I will be delivering a talk to the annual conference of the NY Press Association, an organization of the major newspapers in the NY metro area. Our topic: “What is citizen journalism, and why should news organizations care?”

I’ve put together a handout for this event which covers our main points…

Our main points for this talk are:

  1. Our definition: News reporting/publishing or other journalistic tasks performed by people who are neither professional journalists nor employed by a news organization. The goal is not simply to announce, but to present current information in context so people can make meaning.
  2. “Unbundledâ€? journalism: For the last century or more, we’ve grown accustomed to all journalistic functions being centralized in a “news organization.” With discrete roles like reporter, editor, photojournalist, etc. Citizen journalism unbundles and distributes journalistic tasks.
  3. Dynamic change: Most existing news business models are based on controlled/limited access to information or communication. Those barriers are disappearing fast. To survive, news organizations will have to take on new roles.
  4. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated the symbiosis between the struggling corps of traditional journalists and the growing cadre of citizen journalists.
  5. New opportunities: Embracing and leveraging citizen journalism can strengthen existing audience relationships and expand to new audiences. Re-envision your organization’s role as part of the public conversation, not as “owningâ€? or “definingâ€? the news. Networks always offer more options than hierarchies.
  6. We are all citizen journalists. Journalists are not licensed because they’re just doing what anyone is legally allowed to do. Also, we are always part of the story, even if only as observer.
  7. What citizen journalism looks like: Forms are varied, usually not standard article format. Weblog or discussion forum postings, first-person accounts, photos, audio, video, wikis, collaborative maps, fact sheets, fact checking, timelines, and more.
  8. Where to find it: News organization web sites, sub-sites, and increasingly inserted into primary print or broadcast venues. Also on independent web sites, collaborative sites/tools (wikis, Google Maps), individuals’ weblogs, discussion forums, podcasts, etc.
  9. Global appeal: Citizen journalism is very big in S. Korea, Brazil, India, and getting popular in Africa and Eastern Europe.
  10. Often not “pure.� Citizen journalists often are directly involved as participants, advocates, etc. SPJ-style ethics codes probably aren’t 100% feasible for this crowd.
  11. Keep it simple: If leveraging citizen journalism, start small and be willing to experiment. Online first if possible. Use free/cheap tools. be flexible and responsive. Seek to complement your news content.
  12. Build relationships. Don’t just build a venue and expect people to post great content spontaneously. Offer guidance, and a sense of purpose and reward. Offer training, ideas. More important to invest time and thought than tons of money or technology.
  13. What works for you? What is the culture of your newsroom? Legal and ethical considerations? Focus on where you can be flexible and creative. Accept limits and barriers, but don’t obsess about them. Citizen journalism only works if people (including you) enjoy it.
  14. Pitfalls: Biggest problems stem from trying to force citizen journalism to look and act like traditional journalism — or from expecting too little from citizen journalists and not challenging them enough. Also, over-focus on technology, or trying to cram in too many ads, or not making citizen journalism easily searchable or linkable. It all works better if you envision this as participating in the public conversation, not blithely foisting ads on eyeballs.
  15. Protect your reputation: Traditional news orgs might wish to present citizen journalism in a sub-venue so people know what they’re getting. However, don’t undermine or downplay it. Actively link to and promote the best contributions.
  16. Discuss ethical/style quandaries openly. Make the audience and citizen journalists part of the conversation.

I’ll be recording the audio from our talk, of course – and if NYPA gives permission I’ll release it (or at least excerpts) as a podcast.