The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism
A more practical model is to include "Report Misconduct" buttons on every citizen-submitted story and photograph. Users click these when they spot something inappropriate, and a message is sent to site editors so someone can take a look, and take action if necessary.
Also worth considering is having a script written that automatically takes down an item when, say, at least three people click the misconduct button — a safeguard that will come in handy in the middle of the night.
Why would site editors want to keep their hands off and not even fix obvious errors? Well, for one thing, this approach is more in the spirit of citizen journalism — let them be what they are (amateur writers, community members), rather than try to turn every contributor into a mini-journalist.
Make the site more about community and less about "journalism."
Then there's the legal angle.
I'm not a lawyer and I'd urge you to consult one for specific advice, but a citizen-journalism Web site publisher may be on safer legal ground by not being in a position of editing every submission.
Should an editor spot a user-submitted article that's potentially libelous (and thus violates the site's terms of service), then of course remove it. But by screening every submission for potential libel before publication, the site will have greater liability should something get through that results in a lawsuit.
- Backfence.com (U.S. nationwide, with current beta sites in Reston and McLean, Va.).
- GoSkokie (Skokie, Ill., student-run site).
- GetLocalNews.com (large network of community citizen-journalism Web sites around the U.S.).
- NewWest (news site covering the Rocky Mountain region; mostly by professional journalists but with a stand-alone "Citizen Journalism" area).
- DailyHeights.com (neighborhood citizen-journalism site for the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.).
8. Add a print edition
For this model, take either No. 6 or No. 7 above (stand-alone citizen-journalism Web site, either with edited submissions or a hands-off editing approach) and add a print edition.
A number of newspapers have tried this, using a print edition distributed freely once a week as an insert into a traditional daily or weekly paper, or as a stand-alone print product delivered to people's doorsteps and/or delivered to local retailers and placed in news boxes for consumers to pick up.
Content for these print special editions is typically comprised primarily of the best content submitted to the citizen-journalism Web site. This can be categorized in a similar way as the traditional newspaper: weddings, deaths, business, sports, opinion, people, features, food, etc.
Photo features — especially the best photos from all the people who attended a local event, for example — can be particularly compelling content for such print editions.
Most stand-alone citizen-journalism sites, even those that choose not to edit submissions before they go live online, do exercise at least some editing prior to print publication.
The print edition will look more credible if misspellings are avoided and proper grammar is used. But even print editors should avoid editing out the flavor of the citizen submissions; keep editing to the bare minimum.
A print component can help entice "trusted" contributors to sign up for voluntary writing duty: youth and community group leaders, religious leaders, coaches, politicians, etc.
Especially in a citizen-journalism initiative's early days, the prospect of a volunteer's writing turning up in a newspaper can be more appealing than writing for a still-obscure Web site.
For now, at least, such print editions often are seen as the primary revenue source for newspapers venturing into citizen journalism. Typically, advertising rates are significantly lower than in the newspaper itself or on its Web site, so the combined print-online combo citizen-journalism site can be appealing to small businesses that otherwise couldn't afford to advertise with the newspaper.
However, there is a school of thought that having a print edition as part of a citizen-journalism venture is sort of "retrograde." It adds significant costs that shouldn't be underestimated, and, the argument goes, print can't begin to capture what's most interesting about the citizen-journalism concept because it isn't an interactive, two-way medium like online.
- MyTown (The Daily Camera, Boulder, Colo.).
- Neighbors (The Dallas Morning News, Texas).
- Northwest Voice (The Bakersfield Californian).
- YourHub (Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colo.).
- Bluffton Today (South Carolina; daily print edition, so it fits in this category, but also in No. 9 below).
9. The hybrid: Pro + citizen journalism
The next step up the ladder creates a news organization that combines citizen journalism with the work of professionals.
South Korean site OhmyNews is the best example of this approach. It has recruited, to date, some 38,000 "citizen reporters," who contribute articles for review by OhmyNews' editorial staff.
A small team of professional reporters also create content for the site. Citizen reports account for about 70 percent of the site's content, and pro reporters create the rest, so the emphasis clearly is on the citizen.
Not everything submitted by the citizen reporters is accepted for publication on OhmyNews. And some of the contributors who submit quality content are paid modest fees for their writing and/or photography.
This is a different approach than is taken by most U.S. citizen-journalism sites, which rarely pay for submissions. OhmyNews treats its citizen reporters as though they are journalists (albeit low-paid ones).
This approach appears to be potentially profitable.
OhmyNews, which is five years old, says that it made about US$400,000 in 2004, two-thirds of which from advertising. While it started out as a Korean media venture, the company has created an international edition and recruits citizen journalists from around the world to participate.
It's possible that OhmyNews represents a new kind of media organization that will rival traditional "pro-only" news outlets.
BlufftonToday.com, a South Carolina news Web site that's part of the Morris Communications news empire, also represents a melding of professional journalism and citizen participation.
The Web site is dominated by citizen submissions — mostly in the forms of blogs and photo albums — and community members talking to each other, along with some staff-produced content.