Citizen and Volunteer Journalism - Day 1
Session One: March 1, 2010
- Facilitator: Susan Mernit, Consultant/Entrepreneur, founder Oakland Local
- Scribe: Roberta King, Grand Rapids Foundation
Nontraditional and grassroots organizations and individuals are filling the information gap.
Many people are turning to social media (Twitter) for breaking news and to find links to follow. Twitter is perhaps the back fence or tribal drums; the Chilean earthquake and tsunami are good examples. Primary material is coming from citizens – Ustream, for example. Social media helps share news in real time – not just words but photos via Flickr. Reputable photographers are those with long-standing portfolios and solid profiles.
Citizen journalists are everywhere. We’ve always turned to eyewitnesses to tell the story. Mobile phones are the information workhorses for grassroots and community media.
What about non-crisis stories, which tend to be less visual? What about government meetings?
Citizen “publishers” need to have standards for how they handle “hot” stories, such as a suicide or other unverifiable event. Should citizen sites hold information stories provided by citizen journalists until they are found to be true? And should community foundations be making journalistic decisions? Are they ready for this responsibility?
Some sites discussed:
Oakland Local – Oakland, Ca.
West Seattle Blog – hyperlocal in Seattle
The Loop – Westchester N.Y.
City Limits – New York City
Chicago Current – news and politics
Baristanet – Montclair, N.J.
Deerfield Forum, Deerfield, NH.
More about Oakland Local
It was created in Drupal, the open-source platform, for $3,000, with a core staff of 15, and many unpaid writers. Its 25,000 unique visitors each month include young followers and diverse audiences. It’s the most trafficked indie news site in the East Bay area. Articles so noted, are written by a journalist and sent to news feeds. Blog/opinion pieces are so noted. Civil discourse is important and critical. Diversity comes from being inclusive from the start.
Cost to date: $20,000.
Oakland Local has a strong focus on capacity building for writing and creating simple stories. Working with many partners, especially nonprofit organizations, with whom Oakland Local talked as the site was being structured. Food and environmental issues were key to building Oakland Local as a start-up. Face-to-face meetings are important to success and engagement. Oakland Local hosts brown bags and “drink ups” so members can meet and discuss.
Everyone is a partner; volunteer reporters have different motivations for being involved and reporting may be just one part of what they love to do.
Knight resources are available to support community foundations that are looking into or have launched citizen journalism sites.
Issues from the group include:
How does a local news site rise above becoming another portal, such as the chamber of convention and visitors bureau?
Be MORE welcoming; be a translator of complicated information; don’t have a bias toward a subject or link a lot to others. Be the holder of all kinds of information for all people, i.e., the local herb expert giving a talk. Be his or her place to post to a calendar.
What about open source and Drupal?
Don’t be intimidated or frustrated by the open source products. Open source is widely used and information about them is widely available.
How do you keep citizen journalists engaged?
Critical mass. Information and stories will ebb and flow with people’s time and interest. The more reporters you have, the more stories will be posted.
Don’t forget shameless self promotion! Citizen journalists can promote their own stories.
Interaction on a site is important; incorporate many ways for people to comment.
Alaska Dispatch discussion (It’s an excellent online news site started by professional journalists.) What could community foundations do to help make it better?
Give a voice to people who are not trained observers. Journalists are trained observers and cover news; citizen journalists are more attuned to issues. Think of the outside in model; not the inside outHP Authorized Customer2010-03-02T16:58:00
Not completely sure I understand what it’s italics but I don’t think it adds much. Can we delete?
Community foundations could fund articles about issues that they support, i.e., first-generation college students. What do they need to know to get to college?
Translating government data: As the owner of the site, a community foundation could look at what isn’t being covered. Where do you see passion and need? Provide a platform for its expression.
Printcasting is a great way to use RSS from your site to distribute printed newspapers of your content. See www.printcasting.com. The user can control the distribution.
Outreach to the local media pre-launch is really important. Let them understand that you are here to help cover the really local news that they don’t have the resources to cover.
Different levels of creative commons license are available for story sharing with traditional media.
Alberto Ibargüen: It’s really important to be clear about what community foundations do and don’t do. As a foundation, you need to know what you will fund and what your tolerance for experimentation and risk are. Hybrid funding and blurring the lines of what was and is are changing, and you’ll need to look at how you approach grantmaking differently.
The citizen journalist site HAS to connect people in the community; that is a huge part of its role.