When News Breaks, Prejudice Against Citizen Journalists Better Be Fixed

April 25, 2010

It’s one of those self-fulfilling prophecies. Convinced that amateurs can’t produce real news, legacy media outlets make a token commitment to citizen journalism efforts that virtually assures they won’t.

While not universal, such prejudice is common. It’s understandable and not completely unhealthy. If only to protect their own jobs, few professionals are going place audience contributors on equal footing with themselves. And in only limited cases is it in a news organization’s interest to rely exclusively on citizen participators.

Newsrooms that aren’t supplementing their coverage with user contributions, however, are doing themselves and their audiences a disservice, especially when it comes to breaking news.

Every person carrying a smartphone is a potential one-man or one-woman news organization. Even in small communities, there are dozens or even hundreds of these on-demand news companies. Chances are good that at least one of them is going to beat the official news companies to the scene. When they do, I bet even the staunchest citizen journalism critics are wishing they had a framework in place for soliciting, reviewing and publishing amateur content.

It behooves newsrooms to devise a plan ahead of time. Developing processes on the fly distracts journalists from their primary mission — reporting — and increases the chances they’ll overlook something, causing them to miss out on a valuable piece of user-generated content, get it too late, or worse, publish something that conflicts with editorial policies, or even worse, with copyright or defamation laws.

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2 Responses to “When News Breaks, Prejudice Against Citizen Journalists Better Be Fixed”

  1. melee4 Says:

    Although it is common to see citizen journalism looked at as a kind of distraction from real reporting (since some may be not as credible as some legacy media reports), I do think it will become more prominent as technology advances and definitely offers a lot of perspectives.

    Like you said, there is a high chance of a citizen with a smartphone gaining important information a little before a professional reporter. For the organizations that are not embracing citizen journalism as much as others, it would probably be a good idea to devise a plan as you stated above.

    Here’s a couple interesting articles on this topic:

    http://www.masternewmedia.org/citizen-journalism-the-key-trend-shaping-online-news-media/

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2009/sep/09/journalists-ugc-attitudes

  2. arush84 Says:

    You highlight such an important component of the worth regarding citizen journalism: supplemental coverage. Many news outlets seem to harbor fear that untrained, citizens will swipe their own jobs out from under them. I firmly believe this is unfounded to the nth degree.

    Journalists are trained, often having academic degrees, to back up their exposure to specific tactics of crafting stories based upon information from vast arrays of sources. However, as your touched on, there will NEVER be a journalist present at every event when it happens. This is where the value of supplemental citizen coverage fills the coverage gap. Luckily, organizations such as CNN have been early adopters to this approach I bet it will become increasingly common in years to come. The news organizations that continue to quiver in fear are missing opportunities to build audience loyalty AND provide greater breadth to their coverage.


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