Make them work for you: citizen journalism
With lack of resources and manpower as oft-cited handicaps in the struggle to make online news viable, news organizations across the globe have been seeking to benefit from the citizens who patronize them—and doing so with growing success.
“The old idea of reporters covering a beat might well be replaced by an online reporter/editor who oversees a subject area driven by the entire community,” wrote Mark Bowdon in the Philadelphia Inquirer last year, in an article on journalism and “global dialogue.”
In South Korea, the whimsically named OhmyNews was the first website to take this approach and adopt an “open-source” citizen-journalism model. Its fifty-five-member staff produces twenty percent of the content; ordinary people contribute the remaining eighty percent. So great has been its influence and success that OhmyNews International and OhmyNews Japan have since emerged. And in the United States, ThemeParkInsider became the first online publication—seven years ago—to win the Online Journalism Award (presented by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the Online News Association) for a feature created entirely by its readers.
Locally, the Twin Cities Daily Planet aims to harness the journalistic talent of average folks and offer “grassroots neighborhood, ethnic, and community media,” said Jeremy Iggers, executive director of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, which runs the Daily Planet (Iggers is also a food writer for The Rake). At its core, the Daily Planet is a community newswire and syndication service: It displays the latest headlines from neighborhood and community press, highlighting the best and most relevant stories, while also serving as a venue for independent reporters and citizen journalists who don’t see themselves reflected in mainstream media. The Media Alliance even offers classes, such as Intro to Citizen Journalism (every Wednesday from March 5 to March 26) and Facebook for Geezers. “The age of one-way journalism is over,” Iggers said. “The digital revolution has put powerful communication tools in the hands of everyone. Journalism that ignores this is stuck.”
That’s not an easy philosophy for traditional journalists to stomach. Opening up interaction means less control over content, something that MinnPost’s Joel Kramer is not willing to surrender—citing, once again, a quality issue. But in 2008, whose definition of quality holds sway? Should we still gauge quality using the same parameters we used fifty, or even twenty years ago?