The first U.S. forays in citizen media began in earnest only in 2004. Now, as 2008 comes to a close, we need to stop referring to citizen journalism as a monolithic phenomenon and pay closer attention to the many ways it’s evolving.
While we’re at it, let’s stop fretting about whether citizen media makers, as I like to call them, are good enough to be called “journalists.”
Many just hope to let people in their communities know what’s going on, so let’s not require them to be members of a tribe they don’t much want to belong to.
This year, you can really unpack a wide variety of citizen media niches. They all add value in different ways. There is:
- The increase in micro-local news sites founded by people trying to fill a news void in their communities. This is where J-Lab does most of its work. Baristanet.com is well known, but take a look at NewCastleNOW.org in Chappaqua, N.Y. It’s just a year old. Or JDLand.com, the 2008 Knight-Batten Citizen Media Award winner.
- The creation of local or citywide sites founded by former journalists. These include MinnPost.com in the Twin Cities, the St. Louis Beacon and NewHavenIndependent.org in Connecticut.
- Attempts by conventional media to attract user-generated content. Take a look at CNN’s iReport.com, MSNBC.com’s First Person, the Chicago Tribune’s TribLocal.com.
- The rise of national and international sites, such as NowPublic.com, that solicit and publish citizen photos, video and some articles from around the world. Some have attracted venture capital.
- The participation of smart people as bloggers in sites like HuffingtonPost.com.
- The aggregation and curation of Third World bloggers to counter non-existent media or government-controlled media. Look at GlobalVoicesOnline.org and its Rising Voices mico-funding arm.
- And the emerging use of mobile phones and text messaging to report on crisis hotspots. Mobile pioneer Ushahidi.com was a winner of this year’s Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism.
What are the definitions of “news” in these various models? What are the differences in ethical sensibilities? What are the clues to the future of journalism? With the launch of this blog, J-Lab hopes to weigh in, now and then, to share what it’s been learning.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons user asterix611)