Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Citizen or "cyber" journalism grows, links with traditional media

It was a thrill to learn that the International Herald Tribune will be running headlines from OhmyNews.com.

OhmyNews.com is one of the most ambitious and successful citizen journalism ventures so far, reaching (according to its own reports) 600,000 repeat visitors daily. And the article notes that they can actually pay something for the articles submitted by an army of reporters (32,000?). A homegrown effort is backfence.com, where Dan Gillmore has moved his blogging.

It saddens me to read that readership of traditional newspapers is declining, particularly among young people, and that newspaper staffing is being cut either to reduce costs or as a result of consolidation. I think the strength of our democracy still relies on good local and investigative reporting that newspapers practice best, and requires the wide distribution that only newspapers currently provide.

At the same time, I'm amazed at the growth in "citizen journalism", or "cyber-journalism." Of course, not everyone who starts a blog is a journalist, that's not where I'm going. Most bloggers aren't journalists (though some may be). On the other hand, we see many print journalists writing blogs on their own or as their papers attempt to integrate (and digest the impact of) new Internet mediaforms. (My spell checker complained about that word, but as you see, I can get away with it -- bloggers generally have no editors).

Bloggers go where newspapers fear to tread

Of course, blogs are faster than traditional media. The paper is delivered tomorrow, and TV news waits for the evening, but a blogger can post anytime. Many conferences and public events are blogged, webcast or podcast as they take place.

Bloggers are also brave (foolish?) and venture where print newpeople fear to tread, or where their editors won't let them go. For example, this morning's Honolulu Advertiser carried a story Japan not complying with world tuna rules. But why has the same newspaper not chronicled the USA's failure to comply with numerous international laws and treaties with similar headlines? Or Israel's similar behavior in the mid-East? Because they can't. European papers are not shy, of course, but in this country, the bloggers have stepped into the vacuum, applying the scrutiny to our own government that most traditional media won't dare. This further attracts news-hungry readers to the Internet and away from traditional print.

So far, this is the gap that has been unbridgeable. If anything, it's widening as bloggers multiply while corporate conglomerates swallow up and gag traditional newspeople, making investigative journalists an endangered species. I believe that efforts to eliminate net neutrality are motivated in part by hopes of limiting or eliminating the competition represented by independent Internet voices.

Bloggers protected as news gatherers

While bloggers may not be journalists, their gathering and disseminating of news has recently been recognized in court.

[Apple's] efforts to subpoena e-mail received by the publishers of Apple Insider and PowerPage.org runs contrary to federal law, California's reporter's shield law, and the state Constitution
A recent case in the Sixth District Court of Appeals in California found that a blogger's sources can be protected if the blogger is engaged in the gathering and dissemination of news. This should further boost the citizen journalism movement.

These days, through buzz on the blogosphere, an issue that the papers and TV have treated lightly may get the attention it deserves, and then some. So it's no wonder that traditional media want to be part of the Internet somehow. They know that people are reading the 'net regularly. So newspapers spiff up their websites with features such as discussion boards and post detailed followups to necessarily short print articles. They let their readers post the commentary that they themselves won't dare to put in print.

At the same time, they continue to be ruled by the corporate bias of their owners, so they can't play fully in the blogosphere, which is anarchic and not likely to be owned by giant corporations in the near future (if someone makes me an offer, though, I'll consider it). They are on the web, but not yet of the web.

With the growth in citizen journalism, however it is defined, the mixing has taken a new turn, and it's anyone's guess how this will affect traditional print media. Just as Craigslist and on-line employment sites have moved into (some may say steamrolled over) the corresponding print ads, brace yourself for the impact of citizen journalism. It's blogging but with editors, with standards of practice and a code of ethics. It could make a little money for the writers, something that has eluded most of the blogosphere (does anyone click on ads any more?).

To read more, just Google, or visit sites like cyberjournalist.net.


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