What Is Citizen Journalism?

NOTE: I get asked this question quite often, so I thought I’d take a stab at providing a definition. This represents my view only — feel free to disagree, question, or elaborate in the comments. I intend this to be the starting point of a discussion, not the last word. I originally published this post in another blog in May 2007. I’ve been getting many questions about it lately from journalism students, so I thought I’d repost it.

“Citizen journalism” is a clunky term that manages to be as open to interpretation as it is controversial. I tend to think of it this way:

Any effort by people who are not trained or employed as professional journalists to publish news or information based on original observation, research, inquiry, analysis or investigation.

Here’s what that can mean, more specifically… Continue reading

Kara Andrade prepares to head to Guatemala

Last night, I attended the Hasta Luego party for my friend Kara Andrade, who won a Fulbright and so later this week is heading to Guatemala with her partner Brad for about a year. She’ll be starting a new citizen journalism venture there. I’ll be following her progress on her blog and via Twitter. Here she shares what freaks her out the most about this adventure.

HuffPost’s citizen journalism standards: links required (News orgs, take a hint)

huffpostLast week the Huffington Post posted its standards for citizen journalism. It’s a pretty short, basic list — just six requirements — that reads like journalism 101.

However, many news organizations still could take a lesson from the second item on HuffPost‘s list:

2. Do research and include links to back it up. Whether you are referencing a quote, statistic, or specific event, you should include a link that supports your statement. If you’re not sure, it’s better to lean on the cautious side. More links enhance the piece and let readers know where you’re coming from.”

It amazes me how often I still see mainstream news stories which completely lack links, or which ghettoize links in a box in a sidebar or at the bottom of the story…

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Plea Bargains in Process for Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Runners

I just returned from the arraignment hearing for the 12 people ticketed for indecent exposure on Oct. 31 during Boulder’s 10th annual Naked Pumpkin Run.

To a layperson like me, this arraignment hearing was remarkably short and opaque. But I did get more info from a defense attorney and clerk from the District Attorney’s office. Here’s where things are at with this case, so far as I understand…

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Tipsheet Approach to News: The Launching Point IS the Point

Typically news is presented in narrative story format (text, audio, or video). Often, that works well enough. But what about when people want to dig into issues on their own? What if they want to learn more about how the news connects to their lives, communities, or interests? Generally, packaged news stories don’t support that leap. It generally requires a fair amount of reading between the lines, initiative, research skills, and time — significant obstacles for most folks.

The growing number of citizen journalists (of various flavors) obviously are willing to do at least some of this work — but they don’t always know how to find what they’re seeking, or have sufficient context to even know what might be worth pursuing beyond the narrative line chosen for a packaged news story. Also, lots of people who have no desire to be citizen journalists still occasionally get interested enough in some news stories to want to check them out further first-hand. They just need encouragement, and some help getting started.

Therefore, it helps to consider that news doesn’t always have to be a finished story. In some cases, or for some people, a launching point might be even more intriguing, useful, and engaging. Here’s one option for doing that…
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Following Mumbai Attacks via Social Media

Right now, the Indian city of Mumbai is reeling under coordinated terrorist attacks. In addition to mainstream news coverage from India and around the world, Internet users are sharing news and information — including people in Mumbai, some of whom are at or near the attack scenes.

Here’s a quick roundup of social media to check for updates and reactions. Some of this information is produced by professional news orgs and journalists, most is not. Use your own judgment regarding which to trust…

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Can you commit journalism via Twitter?

Today on Twitter Tips, Jason Preston asks:

“Journalism requires that stories been constructed, facts be tied together, narratives presented, and context created. In short, journalism is the big picture.

“No one would argue that you can get the pig picture in 140 characters. But what about aggregate tweets? One person over a long time, or many people over a large subject?

“Is Twitter a viable, standalone medium for journalism?”

I think this quesion misses the mark regarding the nature of journalism. It confuses the package with the process. That’s understandable, because in the history of mainstream news, journalists and news organizations have often taken a “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” approach to revealing their own processes. When all the public sees is the product, it’s easy to assume that’s all there is to journalism.

Here’s the comment I left on his post:

Hmmmm…. I do journalism, and I know a lot of journalists, and I’ve seen what Twitter can do. It seems to me that any medium — from Twitter to broadcast news to smoke signals — has potential journalistic uses.

Journalism is a process, not just a product. For many professional journalists and other people who commit acts of journalism, Twitter is already an important part of their journalistic process (i.e., connecting with communities and sources, and gathering information). And it can also be part of the product (i.e., live coverage of events or breaking news, or updates to ongoing stories or issues)

So yes, Twitter CAN be a real news platform. As well as lots of other things. Just like a newspaper can be the Washington Post, the National Enquirer, or a free shopper’s guide. It all depends on what you choose to make of it.

And also: These days, almost no news medium is “standalone.” Every news org has a web presence, and many have a presence in social media, and also in embeddable media.

…That’s my take. What’s yours? Please comment below — or send a Twitter reply to @agahran

Boulder Police DID Have Options: Disorderly Conduct Citation

Yesterday, Boulder Daily Camera reporter Amy Bounds interviewed me about my experience at the 10th annual Halloween Naked Pumpkin Run, where 12 streakers were cited by police for indecent exposure. She used that information to expand her Camera story naming those cited — a list that included several local scientists and students. (I wrote about this yesterday.)

Bounds also added to her story a brief quote from Boulder police chief Mark Beckner:

“Boulder Police Chief Mark Beckner said indecent exposure was the charge that best fit the violation. ‘We don’t set the law,’ he said. ‘As police officers, we enforce it. We don’t get into the sentencing part of it.”

It doesn’t look like the Camera saw fit to push back against Beckner’s facile claim, which is unfortunate. Because the Boulder police did have another option here. They could have chosen to cite the streakers instead under Colorado statute 18-9-106. Disorderly conduct.
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Boulder Naked Pumpkin Runners = Sex Offenders? COME ON!

Scene of Boulder’s 2008 Naked Pumpkin Run busts, plus two nearby real (violent) crimes earlier that same day.

UPDATE NOV 4. The names of the 12 busted streakers have been published, so I’m following up on this case via local courts

On Halloween, as I wrote earlier, I went down to Boulder, CO’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall to check out the costumes — which are always spectacular — and to see the annual Naked Pumpkin Run. (Note: that link above goes to my blog post which includes a video containing nudity.) This loosely organized event has a lot of local fans.

The Naked Pumpkin Run is nothing more than that — sometime around 9-10 pm on Halloween, a bunch of people get naked, put jack-o-lanterns on their heads, and run en masse down the Pearl St. Mall. It’s not sexual, violent, dangerous, or threatening. It’s just silly. It’s unique. It’s fun. It’s exuberant. It’s positive and life-affirming.

And: It’s illegal.

Unlike in previous years, the Boulder police were out in force for this event, where they ticketed several runners for indecent exposure. Consequently, several fun-loving local folks may end up suffering life-altering public stigma as registered sex offenders.

No kidding.

The Colorado Daily posted this video of the event, including some footage of the busts:

Need some irony? All this happened less than 24 hours after two remarkably violent assaults, which occurred just a half-mile from the scene of the Naked Pumpkin Run busts.

Here are the details, as best as I’ve been able to gather them so far… Continue reading