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Report of Journalism That Matters Breakout session

August 8, 2007 10:15 Session: Citizen Journalism that Matters Convened by Barbara Selvin Notes written by Audrey Manring

Started with some basic definitional questions around citizen journalism:

What distinguishes talk radio from citizen journalism? Is citizen journalism mostly just the “sounding off” of opinion?

Does the public understand—and value—the distinction between “straight” news and opinion? Our own opinions were mixed on this.

Perhaps there’s a need to defend old-style newsroom values, if not old-style newsrooms. How do we impress the importance of these on news consumers, younger people especially?

Do people want the “truth”? And if so, where do they look for it?

One reading of the segmentation of the news/opinion marketplace (talk radio, Jon Stewart, et al.) is that people are self-isolating into “truth silos.” Does this pose a danger to society? Generally agreed that it does.

On the other hand, open technologies make contributing to/participating in news-making more accessible to wider range of people, including “non-professionals.” Opens up opportunities for citizen journalists.

Where is citizen journalism important?

  • In underserved communities
  • To fill in the gaps on issues that aren’t adequately covered by MSM

Consensus emerged that citizen journalism is an overly broad term. Lots of levels and types of involvement; important to distinguish among them to better understand the phenomenon of cj and figure out where it complements/overlaps with/perhaps supplants traditional MSM.

We came up with a preliminary list of types of cjs:

  • Opinion bloggers
  • Hyper-local sites (geographically based or “local” by field of interest)
  • Participatory journalism (e.g., citizen fact-checking, crowdsourcing)
  • In-depth reporting by individuals outside of corporate news organizations

Corporate media is in fact engaging with/encouraging a degree of citizen journalism, mostly in the form of crowdsourcing. Gannett doing this, e.g.

Crowdsourcing has (at least) two flavors: -Investigative reporting that emerges from the grassroots (e.g., Jeff Gannon’s “outing” by members of Daily Kos, who subsequently formed ePluribus Media, a sophisticated citizen journalism site). -MSM reporters asking for tips/info on a particular topic (e.g., Gannett’s eliciting of sewer bill info via crowdsourcing led to exposure of corruption). Not necessarily different than traditional sourcing, but faster: get info all at once rather than sequentially; burden of time shifted away from sourcing to sorting.

Of course, crowdsourcing has dangers, e.g.: -conflating small numbers into a trend -the huge volume of info overwhelms, adds to workload. Does better story result?

How can we know whether citizen journalism (or any journalism for that matter) is making a difference? Should we be measuring the quality of journalism by impact on people’s lives?

Four levels of impact:

  • Changes knowledge of reader
  • Changes opinion/thinking
  • Changes behavior
  • Causes reader to seek to influence others

Point was raised that not every story should move reader through all four levels of impact. Appropriate for some stories/topics, but not all.

There is a software tool available for measuring the impact of journalism. Called NetPromoter (??)

Are sites putting these evaluation tools up? Might there be foundation funding for evaluating the impact of (citizen) journalism or developing tools to measure impact?

How do we educate young people to appropriate evaluate reliability and quality of media?

Stonybrook’s brand-new journalism program is offering a news literacy course for general student population. Looking at issues of bias, sourcing, objectivity, assertion, etc. Dual purpose of journalism program is to train journalists AND to train future news consumers.

After-conference comments
I think the expression "citizen journalism" is often too open to interpretation to be very useful. The breakdown of types is a good move.
Another problem is that the phrase "citizen journalism" implies a false dichotomy. The distinction between one group and another has nothing to do with citizenship.
Maurreen 04:03, 10 August 2007 (EDT)