The following discussion was offered to me for posting by my friend Mario Vellandi. Rather than trying to editorialize the discussion itself, I'd like to offer a couple of thoughts before you read it and provide a wrap up - just like I used to do with the many events I hosted.
We talked about citizen journalism and responsibility more than a year ago. The responsibility has not gone away and we have many more citizens who have been acting journalists - in Iran, in China, in many parts of the world.
Some of us learned about Michael Jackson's death on FriendFeed or Twitter - he had a far longer news cycle than Farrah Fawcett did. Yet while Jackson's news is still making its way in main stream media, the online stream has moved on.
Crowd sourced news is wider and more impressive in volume, it doesn't have the depth of some professional reporting and - some would say blessedly - not the persistent cycle. Good, bad, or indifferent - this is happening.
To learn what information has better legs than Fawcett's online look at what people can and want to build upon. The amount of discussion and longevity of a post also depends on who posts it. At some point the new media we're using will mature and we won't be talking so much about the tools.
A better question to citizen journalism being a viable alternative is exploring ways in which it intersects and connects with professional news reporting.
These are the notes from the July 13 Social Media Club Los Angeles panel discussion on the subject of citizen journalism with:
- Alexia Tsotsis - Tech/business lifestyle reporter for the LAWeekly
- David Sarno - Los Angeles Times Internet business reporter
- Christina Gagnier - Communications strategist and information broker, with a strong nonprofit background
- Andy Sternberg - Live Earth interactive director; news editor at LAist.com
- Chris Tolles - CEO of Topix
On Citizen Journalism
David: Citizen journalism has lots of future potential. Big skills needed are: getting the story/process right, verification, sense of intuition, who to trust. These take time and patience to develop.
Andy: Accuracy is paramount, otherwise credibility is lost. One can't jump to conclusions in details.
Chris: Massive amounts of information and stories are being made available on a faster basis as events suddenly happen. With this rapidity you have a variety of participants: professionals, amateurs, truth tellers, liars, spinners, propagandists. Effects on news consumption and interpretation
Chris: Transitioned use to news feeds, aggregators, blogs, and social media. Understood to be publishing & promotional engines.
David: Greater monitoring of citizen journalism and social media for sentiment analysis. How are content creators, and distribution intermediaries feeling about the story? How are they reacting? Twitter is a great tool for that, through keyword searches.
Andy: Instantaneous opportunity to check what the grapevine is saying about a rumor, feeling, event, etc. For example, an earthquake. As an editor, rules haven't changed much. Having at least two credible sources is still important. Rules matter, but in these times there's a feeling of wanting to scoop a story first, because others are doing so, too. However, this leads to increased number of unconfirmed reports. There's a definite need to have stories right versus having them first.
Christina: Social media helps intensely spread information. However, Twitter is still only used by a very small number of people. References story on especially low use by Milennials of ages 16-24. Note: See Times.co.uk article on 15yr. old Morgan Stanley intern who wrote work essay on How Teenagers Consume Media, and subsequent findings frenzy.
David: Let's look at this from the perspective of journalism education. Technology is moving so fast and these trends are happening so quickly, they're not being taught in schools. Many journalists and students aren't getting the requisite skills to understand and adapt to the changing nature of information production, dissemination, and consumption. It's only to their career benefit if they do, at least from a risk mitigation standpoint.
Chris: Teens and Twitter isn't important. For young adults though, Twitter is a great networking and promotional tool.
Role of Investigative Journalism
Chris: It's competing with the masses. Twitter is awesome, but it's a giant mess! In journalism, narrative creation is highly important and valuable. Curation! Aggregation tools can help in the process.
Andy: Even though I'm a big fan of Twitter, I see it playing a small part in a larger holistic future of how investigative journalism is created, distributed, and consumed. 90% of the work is just getting out there and doing it. Monitoring, notes, verification, telephone calls, elaboration, editing. For simply capturing a potential story, always have a camera with you. Do some basic writing, tag the article, and send it out. Twitter is great as a resource and a conversational search engine.
Guidelines for Journalism
Alexia: Reuters Handbook for Journalism; quote from therein, "Always hold accuracy sacrosanct."
Chris: Depends on who you're reporting for.
David: Verifiability. Take the Iran situation as an example of where information was coming from all directions. Make sure that the next person receiving your accounts/story can verify it as well, that way you're also helping the next person(s) down the line. Makes dispersion frictionless.
Audience Member, Serena: National Association of Professional Journalists.
Andy: Resources are great. A developing question is what is appropriate and acceptable. Self-policing of journalistic quality is in effect. Rules are being made as we go along. Influencers like Jeff Jarvis, among many others, are giving guidelines.
Changing Landscape and the Future
Chris: Online classifieds were what paved the way for the killing of one of print news' big revenue streams. No way that Craig's List can be put back in the box.
David: Business model transformation though content licensing, affiliation, partnerships, freemium options. A simple fact is that the web is not good for reading extended copy because screens can become straining on the eyes. Print and electronic readers like the Kindle make that much easier on the user.
Citizen Journalism's Effect on Attention Span and Willingness to Read Extended Stories
David: It's variable. There's lot of room to continually create longer stories people will read.
Andy: Conciseness and leading (as opposed to burying the lead), are becoming increasingly important to keep readers' attention and interest.
Role of the Press Release: Is the traditional format and distribution dead?
Andy: I'm not actively looking for them. There's many channels through which they're being dispersed and come across by chance through social media, other news media providers, and especially aggregators (i.e., Google News). Of course, they're continually coming into our email in boxes. The quality of those continue to vary in terms of relevance, good headlines, interesting story, embodied respect for editor's time.
Christina: Personal interaction is still very important; personalized initial/followup emails and phone calls.
Chris: The content of the release is what matters.
Many have come to rely on several sites for information and news. I'm not a good sample, I tend to hang out with the early adoption crowd even though I cannot say I'm an early adopter myself. We can all agree that reliability and diversity of information both matter - as do relationships when it comes to public relations.
What do you think will improve as we mix more peer and community-based information and news with that of main stream media? What might we miss? As an important aside, when news organizations become news corporations - businesses - what happens to the way news is filtered? Whose point of view?
This is an ongoing discussion and it will be interesting to see what's next.