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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Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Zen principle of blogging and the A-List

A Zen Koan goes thus: Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping?
Another one: Can you hear the noise of a tree falling in a forest.

A group of excellent bloggers (here and here) are discussing Robert Scoble’s admission that a) there is an A-list, b)the power of A-list is waning and c)Social networks such as Facebook are the next destination for A-listers to construct their lyceums – the so called Facebook A-lists, frequented by like-minded people.

Some thoughts to put things in perspective:
1. Punditry doesn’t work on the converted.
2. What makes you think people in large numbers would like to log into Facebook to read you post?
It sure is a VC’s wet dream.
3. Do you seriously believe that O’Reilly, Techcrunch and Gigaom and others will thrive in a walled garden? They need the openness of a blog platform where their ambitions can flourish. Facebook for them is side show at best/

A-Lists or not, your blog is already your own Social network – it is upon you to go ahead and make it popular – commenting, social network seeding, digging, and so on. About that cliche of like-minded keeping in touch, install an IM app. or use Gtalk in conjunction with your blog.

This is the Zen principle of principle – we can’t be islands hoping for people to come over. Scoble is smart – he sneezed, others took notice and his name is in circulation again.

Would I have known about it if Scoble was sulking in his Facebook corner? That is a modern Zen koan for you.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The most annoying thing with modern media: equal time for nutjobs

Drew Curtis founded (a cooler Digg) and is the author of ‘ It's Not News, It's Fark: How Mass Media Tries to Pass Off Crap as News’.

The title is self explanatory – Drew Curtis is not happy at the current state of news media – there is too much frivolity.

In an interview with Tim Ferriss, he responds thus when asked about what media pattern he found most annoying:

Equal Time for Nutjobs. It's all funny when you talk about people not believing in moon landings, or who think an alien crash-landed in Texas in 1897, or who believe that there was once an ancient Mediterranean civilization in Florida. It's another thing entirely when people start to believe that denying the Holocaust is a valid opinion.

Maybe, we ought to start a wikipedia for nutjobs - Paris Hilton, first entry?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Graduating from a ‘lone ranger ’ to ‘authorized’ blogger

I would go ahead and put most of my fellow bloggers in the ‘lone ranger’ blogger category, endless putting forth opinion pieces, rants, analysis and whatever else that passes for free voice.

In other words, our words can be hard and we don’t shy away from using derogatory words and assorted put downers.

All this goes for an overhaul when someone up there hears your voice (or had too much of it) and promotes to you a position where you are writinge as an authorized blogger, as a reporter for a regular news organization.

Your writing style changes and you find yourself doing ‘balanced’ pieces.
You begin to find that people who you earlier ridiculed were just your average folks, not so bad and calculating after all.

Jay Lassitor, a political blogger in New Jersey was ‘lone’ blogger who graduated to being an authorized blogger and found his outlook towards his subjects had changed. In his earlier avatar, he constantly ridiculed local politicians and legislators, calling them with vicious names, but that changed:

“I don’t find myself launching firebomb campaigns anymore …this whole exercise has kind of mellowed me out. These people in here, they seem like they’re doing their best.”

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Is online news more fleeting than print and TV?

I read somewhere that the life of an online news article is 32 hours. Or, is it lesser?
A reader asks NYT Digital news Editor Jim Editor about the celebrity-driven coverage that pervades most news web sites and blogs.

Mr. Roberts explains NYT’s position as:

…on the Web we have the ability to publish news that is being talked about today but might be fading from memory as early as tomorrow morning when the newspaper is published. While we focus most of our efforts on more significant events, like Iraq, the presidential campaign or the immigration debate, there are some stories of such novelty that people will be talking about them on subway platforms, in offices and over the dinner table.

We feel our Web readers should not have to go elsewhere to learn of things that may have less historic significance but still have commanded significant public attention.

In other words, celebrity (and gadget) coverage is for instant page views adsense clicks, which in turn may be subsidizing serious news coverage.

That would be nice if most news sites and blogs use this business model to fund long, investigative pieces that have a longer shelf value.

We know that is not true and we have to look for better news models.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

The 5 stages of blogging

In response to Ken Newsome’s entertaining post about the stages in blogging, Jeremiah Owyang explains it all in a graphic that I think you will find as illuminating as I have.

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7 reasons why Michael Moore's next target should be Google

In a Larry King interview, award-winning documentary maker Michael Moore says the Pharmaceuticals Industry is ripe for an expose, done obviously in his uniquely polarizing style.

In that interview, Mr. Moore explains that through his documentaries he brings out in the open many facts that the traditional media has not paid much attention to – pointing out to ‘Fahrenheit 91’1, he claims he covered Walter Reed Veterans’ Hospital much earlier before the news media got to it last year.

Google is a worthy topic: It is the latest success in an industry (software technology) which has had a largely unbroken run for more than 30 years now, except the bubble in Web 2.0. In these 30 years, we have seen successful founders toasted as iconic heroes that wannabes with dreamy eyes find worth emulating.

Even during downturns, there have been no homelessness or suicides – “Roger and Me” this aint. However, there are stories aplenty about excess, quick riches, furious bitching, inflated egos, and more.

Here’s what we might learn were Mr. Moore to cover Google first:

1. How Google is slowly becoming another Microsoft: the lobbying engine, the monopoly and all that big company hoohaa.
2. The Real truth behind the famous “Do no Evil” mantra. Was this all a cleverly pre-planned PR trick?
3. Privacy issues: the amount of user data Google stores, with or without users’ permission. In his trademark style Mr. Moore might do Google searches to find out nuggets we did not know before.
4. The Parallel Google Economy: How more spammers, spam blog networks, Black Hat SEOs and profit in the Google adsense system instead of genuine content producers.
5. How dependent genuine, regular businesses are on ranking in Google search results – in other words, how Google search can make or break many a business.
6. An inquiry into Geekdom: are geeks really that arrogant and self-centered that they are portrayed out to be? Mr. Moore would appreciate the Geeks vs. Noobie angle.
7. How Google is morphing from the dominant search engine in the world to the dominant advertising company in the world.

That brings me to the story behind this post:
Google the advertising giant (or the PR giant, take your pick)
In a recent post titled “Does negative press make you Sicko? “, a Google employee calls upon healthcare companies to use Google’s ad services to counter any negative impact of Michael Moore’s latest documentary “Sicko”, the main point of which is that the U.S. healthcare system is too expensive for U.S. citizens – costing twice that of the Canadian system, leaving more than 15% of the population, or about 45 million Americans without any insurance.

I have two points to make about this:
1. Is Google’s Adwords system combined with Doubleclick’s Banner ad system an effective branding tool?
We know that adwords is perhaps not great for building brands and Banner ads do not a brand make.

Using Adwords to deal with the aftereffects of people dying from lack of medical insurance –
that doesn’t sound a part of Google’s famous 10 rules.

Or, does it now?

2. Google the advertising giant and Google the search giant: I don’t now about you, but I am still not comfortable with this.

P.S.: The Google Health Blog has tried to put some quick fix over the faux pax, but the point remains that Google is an ambitious advertising player, and I hope to come across more similar incidents.

The Googplex is Madison Avenue 2.0.

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Can Mika Brzezinski change the nature of modern news?

When she refused to read the Paris Hilton Story and later shredded the news item on air, Mika Brzezinski wanted to convey what most of have long felt:
‘… the news media is so saturated with celebrity gossip… serious issues are not getting discussed.

In this Observer article, Mika has said that she hopes this episode forces open discussion ‘about what is news and what is not.

In a related news item, the latest issue of Us Weekly magazine has declared itself to be 100% Paris free.

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