Saturday, July 07, 2007

Citizen Journalism is not dead: 7 things that can make it work

Consider the failure of Citizen Journalism site Backfence as the end of Citizen 1.0.
It also marks the beginning of Citizen Journalism 2.0.

Ethan Zuckerman famously said the future of journalism is to point to the best content out there.

At any moment, citizen journalists are making their mark across the world and they don’t necessarily have to be part of an outfit. Cases in point:

- Bloggers who post pictures of floods in Mumbai, which in turn are taken up by TV channels.
- Blogger who brought the Gonzalez case in public
- The IIPM scandal in India.
- Those who post Hillary Clinton spoofs on Youtube
- People rooting for Presidential hopeful Ron Paul on Digg and Reddit
- The bloggers who are making GlobalVoices what it is today
- Ohmynews, though not making much money is doing okay.
- Bloggers who put self-important elite bloggers in their place, pointing to their mistakes and misdemeanors.

Citizen Journalism as a business model, with expensive managerial and reporting staff, may be under a cloud – but it is not about a group of ex-journo types as Pete Cashmore would call it.

If Citizen Journalism is about Local news, then how could have startups such as the failed Backfence thrived?

Here is a starter checklist of things to do with Citizen Journalism 2.0:

1. Keep costs low: The Arrington, if it is to be called, is the best. It shouldn’t take more than 2 people to run the service – managing servers, making deals, strategizing…

2. Point to the best
Point to and aggregate the best information produced by local citizens – columns, blogs, photos, video, audio, campaigns, relevant useful information etc.

Initiatives like, are great examples of this.

There are incentives other than paying writers.
Technorati doesn’t pay the bloggers it ranks and aggregates – it uses their content and in return keeps users in the loop with Top 100 rankings.

3. Forums are a great way to foster local interaction.

4. Organizing local events on a regular basis – sponsors are more eager to support these initiatives.

5. SEO, SEO SEO – Like all the smart online publishers, you must make sure all your pages are SEO-friendly – Clean URLs, pinging services such as Technorati and Google Blogsearch, linking and commenting on other blogs and sites, Digg-worthy linkbait articles…there are many smart things you do to help your content rank high on search engine result pages and get traffic.

An example of new CitiJ site mentions the importance of SEO amd great stories as the key to success.

6. To get more user participation: Citizen services, regular polls, ratings, intelligent moderation, Q & A sessions, User profile videos – getting users the reason to do something on your site, are some of the ways you can avoid the ghost towns that plagued Backfence.

7. Learning from Rob Curley: Rob Curley made hyperlocal work. Google his name and learn about all he has done with local sites.

Newspapers such as Washington Post may be using the example provided by Backfence to build better local news sites and I think established news brands are now in better position to create great hyperlocal sites, using the examples provided by all startups.

When bloggers diss Citizen Journalism, consider that as overenthusiastic opinionitis, with most of them eager to say something hyper, as cheap linkbait, if you will.

Journalism is undergoing profound changes – let us not make hoary statements and work towards solutions.
We can still bring the best of journalism – research, fact checking and balance with the best on online tools, fostering Citizen Journalism 2.0 in the end.

I look forward to your suggestions on making Citizen Journalism 2.0 work.

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