Wednesday, February 08, 2006

CHANGE: A small-city Kentucky editor describes and embraces "citizen journalism"

Wednesday February 8, 2006

State of Mind: 'Citizen journalism' begins to take hold

By JOHN A. NELSON, Managing Editor
The Advocate-Messenger, Danville, Ky. (circ. 11,450, daily) / 859-236-2551

You'll find today's column not only on the newspaper page, but also on our Web site, and not just there, but in a format that allows us to interact on a variety of subjects. Some of you may even be reading it online first. I'm now a blogger, you see.

It took some encouraging, but I finally gave in. The Weblog is a little different for a veteran newspaperman, used to communicating in a medium that allows for little more reaction from the reader than a letter to the editor or an angry phone call. But the blog has been up and running since Jan. 29, and I think I'm ready to commit long-term. While my blog is named after this weekly column, "State of Mind," it plays host to daily observations I have on issues that may not show up here. It also offers an opportunity for me to explain some news decisions, and most importantly, it provides another way for you to communicate with me, to agree, disagree, complain, or offer suggestions or ideas.

I hope you'll visit, or from the homepage click on "State of Mind" under the "Blogs" listing in the sidebar menu, and take a look, even post a comment. Become a "journalist." There's a new buzzword in this business of media, and as usual we're not yet completely sure what it means, or what it will mean to the profession.

"Citizen journalism" now joins civic journalism and public journalism and participatory journalism in the list of ideas we put forth in an effort to include and engage the consumer of news.

Evolution of 'citizen journalism'

At first, sometime in the early 1990s, civic journalism became a "responsibility" in the eyes of its creators. Many of us, particularly in small markets, found it hard to distinguish between civic journalism and what we thought we were already doing. It seemed to us much like the term "investigative" reporting. The old-schoolers thought that was being redundant. Civic journalism has been described as an effort not only to present the news but to tell the public what about the news is important, why it should matter and what the reader can do to have an influence on the outcome. It was also touted as tantamount to the newspaper becoming more of a participant, figuratively putting its arms around the community.

If you're interested in reading a lot of boring, philosophical rhetoric on the subject, you can find such works at The Poynter Institute, our industry's professional development school extraordinaire; the Pew Center for Civic Journalism; and the International Media and Democracy Project. Citizen journalism involves you in a more intimate fashion, engaging your ability to respond almost immediately, to participate on a level unimaginable only a decade ago, to influence public opinion and even to report news as it happens, mainly through the amazing flexibility and accessibility of the Internet.

A more thorough definition and comparison of these two concepts can be found in Wikipedia, the free Internet interactive encyclopedia. A blog is just one way to achieve this interaction. The Poynter site offers an article on "11 layers" of citizen journalism, including everything from the simple posting of comments to Web pages whose entire content is produced by the general public, with some screening of course.

Profession is undergoing changes

The article also mentions several experiments involving cooperation between reporters and the public in the development of stories, along with ways in which readers can be offered the opportunity to contribute, both online and in print, to the content of stories without actually having been interviewed by a reporter. While we didn't announce it at the time, The Advocate-Messenger conducted one of those experiments in our series about the impact of Ephraim McDowell Health last fall.

The experiment came at the invitation and with the assistance of Buck Ryan, a journalism professor at the University of Kentucky. He hooked us up with some "good citizens" with knowledge of the subject matter and with no stake in the outcome of the stories. They directed us in ways that we would not have explored in a typical series on this subject. I hope we learned something from the experience, that our readers did as well, and that we will create opportunities to employ these methods again.

Our profession is undergoing a transformation like we've never seen, and that's saying something, because the changes in information gathering and distribution over the past 30 years have been monumental. That you can get in on the act so easily is both frightening and exciting. Our challenge will be to make it worth your while and at the same time maintain high standards of accuracy and credibility. Join us in the effort.

Copyright The Advocate-Messenger 2006, division of:
Schurz Communications Inc.
225 W. Colfax Ave.
South Bend, IN 46626


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