Building a Market for Citizen Journalists

إئتلاف الثورة السورية فرع قبرص - 20-05-2011 / CYPRUS
Image by Syrian Freedom

It was a great honor to feature some of the organizations that are trying to build a stronger citizen journalist corps last week on Mashable. One of the more striking aspects of the story interviews was a perceived need to build a receptive audience for citizen journalists. For example, both AllVoices and Global Voices are building platforms for new citizen voices.

In his interview for the piece, AllVoices GM Aki Hashmi said the biggest challenge facing citizen journalists was, “Being heard.” And as quoted in the Mashable piece Solana Larsen, managing editor of Global Voices, said, “Cultivating readership of citizen media is probably just as important as cultivating citizen media itself. People could be typing away in Egypt but if no one inside or outside the country were reading what they were saying or taking them seriously, it would have little effect.”

The need for a citizen journalist platform makes sense. If you think about it, most news organizations are not as progressive as CNN in highlighting citizen journalists (the iReports you see on the cable networks web site).

Instead, citizen journalists are left to compete with every other form of blogging and content creation on the social web. And there is significant competition from parent blogs to gamers.

Small World News Director and Cofounder Brian Conley stated as much in his interview for the story. “The biggest challenge for citizen journalists at the moment is to rise above the mass of citizen content and make themselves heard,” said Conley.

Citizen journalists are rarely looked for except when an event occurs. It is then — particularly in areas where the media is not present; has a relatively small foot print; or is simply not covering a story — that citizen journalism really shines. If you think about the most notable moments for citizen journalism, it has been when they break stories instead of the media. That is when independent voices become the Fifth Estate as first envisioned by media professor Stephen Cooper.

One thing is clear, even in its current limited role citizen journalism is working. As it matures, it might become more of a commonplace aspect of reporting the news. Reader demand for non-traditional masthead voices may increase.

Of course, that will take formal vetting by more journalist organizations to be included side by side with paid journalists. Having written a couple of iReports that made it to the front page of CNN’s site, the vetting process was significant with editors fact checking your report on the phone. Or new citizen journalism platforms like those mentioned here may simply become go to places for “on the scene” points of view.

What do you think about the future of citizen journalism?


  • Jeff Jarvis has great insights about this topic. He advocates for two types of journalism, news, which lends itself to real time, collaborative, updating, and this is going to happen largely through the work of citizen journalists who are on the streets, close to the site, capable of delivering facts quickly.  And the other type is the commentary, the kind that involves research, deep thought, analysis, and time to develop, which leverages off the former type of journalism, but provides the type of narrative and context that enlightens people on the big picture, summarizes a complex day’s news and answers the question: what does this mean for us? Both these types signal a future where citizen journalism is key…the questions is what will be the platforms, organizations, and technologies that enable it to flourish. 

    • Indeed, and whether we want it is another question. It still remains to be seen if the general public really wants this level of journalism. I love Jeff Jarvis’s work.  Thank you for sharing this.

  • Geoff, the thesis of your post here was severely undercut when you linked to the Andrew Breitbart/Dana Loesch diatribe against “the left” under the fig leaf of “citizen journalism is working.” Citizen journalists are more apt to report “unbiased news” than traditional media? Really? Can you cite some examples? Because this particular link offered none.

    There’s plenty to be said for citizen journalism without fogging up the subject with ideological hit pieces.

    • JD: I couldn’t diasgree with you more.  I don’t care about their rant, I care about their acknowledgement that citizen media is working.  That is what is driving the trend. Thesis in tact.  And since when did the traditional media become sudden objective?

  • I feel citizen journalism is really important. Definitely getting heard/read and curation are big issues. I think the key is platforms that curate. Like TMZ though celebrity in nature they get a lot of submissions. And I bet if we had platforms that we felt if we submitted 1] good chance if the work is strong it will be published and 2] assurance we get credit for it.

    • If some of these platforms take off, do you envision AOL like acquisitions al la the NY Times buying AllVoices?  Could happen, eh?

      • I would think they would be very poor visionaries if they did not Geoff. Wouldn’t it benefit the big players to have a funnel of stories/leads from people on the street submitting them vs say combing through twitter to see if they can catch a break on something?

        I actually approached Fortune who wrote a glowing story about Facebook last summer how some of the numbers they were tossing can be debunked and thus Fortune was misleading readers. I got into a fight with them over it. What shocked me most was Fortune doesn’t need Facebook like say Mashable does, so if my insight was right (and it is proving to be) they could of had a very hot story.

        • Man, the media does not get it.  Never has, and they are as guilty of perpetrating the bubble as any other source.  But they are obsessed with social, oh yes, it’s eaten their lunch.

  • What journalists of all stripes are always seeking is expertise on the topic at hand. The reason citizen journalists are normally only used when events occur is because eyewitnesses suddenly become the best experts we have (and then in the hours and days after the event, many traditional journalists switch back to their think-tank/academic/pundit experts). But it’s time to realize that those eye-witnesses are experts on a lot of other things, too.

    We created the Public Insight Network to help unlock the everyday expertise of normal citizens…expertise gained through work, school, hobby, family or whatever other experiences make someone more knowledgeable than most about a given subject. Reporters can contact PIN sources on any topic they’re curious about and find a variety of fresh voices with real stories to tell. And PIN sources can poke reporters with story ideas, too.

    That’s a little different from the citizen-generated iReporting you’re talking about, but with many of the same goals and hopefully an even lower bar to participation.

    • Thanks for coming by and sharing your vision of citizen journalism. I hope to check out your network!

  • What are good ways in which we can market citizen journalism, besides social media. Also how do we keep citizen journalists motivated, especially if they are not getting compensated.

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