UPDATE: This post was turned into an article for the Press Gazette That version is shorter and cleaner, but if you want to see the sausage being made – read below.
Words often do much more than we intend. They are uncontrollable, taking a life of their own in the readers mind and the cultural nuances that readers engage in. They echo between readers, changing from sender to receiver — like a giant game of telephone. Because everyone can have a voice on the Internet, that echo chamber can produce a lot of noise. In the end, a general consensus is usually reached, but not always without debate. (See note at the end about Wikipedia)
There are a lot of words I hear regularly in my recent field of work, where I’m lucky enough to work with people like Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and I can approach older (read: wiser) people in journalism like Leonard Witt and Dan Gillmore. “Community” is one of those words and I took a playful look at it last week by creating a Community Dream Team.
Since citizen media is an oft talked about subject, I do think distinctions should be made
so people can clearly understand what they are referring to when they talk to each other. JD Lasica started an interesting conversation about the terms “citizen media,” “social media” and “grassroots media,” which itself needs to be hashed out. What I will be focusing on in this post is “citizen journalism” — which is a subset of the larger conversation surrounding social media that JD was talking about.
“Citizen journalism” remains somewhat of a vague but very charged term. What intrigues me about the word and why I believe it is so vague are the various synonyms it has. “Participatory journalism,” “stand-alone journalism,” “networked journalism,” “open source journalism,” “distributed reporting“: Without reflection, they all mean the same thing and are used interchangeably by most people — where citizens play an active or integral role in the collection, reporting, distilling, filtering and broadcasting of news and information.
So why do we have so many terms for this? For starters “citizen journalism” itself is pretty broad and can include many acts. Jeff Jarvis has posited replacing the term “citizen journalism” with “networked journalism.” I do think networked journalism should enter the lexicon of citizen media more, but I don’t know if it should replace “citizen journalism.” What I suggest is a further refining of the various types of citizen journalism acts.
Take for example a car crash. People who might be walking by take photos with their phones (not an unheard of act) and then post them on their blog. Who knows, maybe through NowPublic their photos will even end up on the AP. Citizen journalism? — Of course.
Contrast that with Assignment Zero, a collaborative effort between NewAssignment.Net, Wired News and “anyone else that participated.” For four months the Assignment Zero community worked on one story, collecting 80 interviews and producing eight feature articles. Citizen journalism? — Of course.
But these two acts of “citizen journalism” are incredibly different. The first was sporadic, spur of the moment and the act of an isolated individual. The former, a collaboration over time that required dedication and commitment.
Both are labeled “citizen journalism” because the rhetoric surrounding “citizen journalism” has yet to really grow into its own. There is no vocabulary to articulate different acts of citizen journalism. How do we distinguish these two acts from another?
The first example (the car crash) seems like an act of “Citizen Journalism” (with a big C). A person going about their day who witnesses an event, captures it and broadcasts it. It was not, however, a planned decision. The individual didn’t go out with their camerae with the intention of reporting. It just happened to work out that way. NowPublic currently rests its fate on citizen journalism and it is coming close to a critical mass of people who will engage in acts of citizen journalism on its behalf (NowPublic also relies on stand-alone journalism, which I’ll define later).
In the case of Assignment Zero, however, people were engaging in “Networked Journalism.” They were coming together for a purpose. I don’t believe “networked journalism” has reached its full potential yet, but I’m optimistic.
I don’t claim to be the expert or the person who should define these terms. But, I do enjoy trying to make distinctions in my own mind, it’s fun and hey, it’s my blog. If you don’t like it. Piss off (or leave a comment to give your own opinion).
Citizen Journalism: An umbrella term, without a doubt, citizen journalism is when a person who does not make their living as a journalist engages in an act of journalism. Simple enough right? Again, this is a broad definition, which means citizen journalism encompasses all the other acts of journalism that will be described below. But not all acts of citizen journalism are necessarily “networked journalism” or “open source journalism.” These are unique types of citizen journalism. Another way to think of it: Citizen Journalism is the class and “networked journalism” is a species. SAT Question: Mammal is to Human as Citizen Journalism is to Open Source Journalism.
(More After the Break
“Stand-alone journalism”: Stand-alone journalism is one notch above citizen journalism because the individual isn’t reporting out of happenstance. Instead, the reporter, who might not be a “professional” has every intention of going out to report on a topic. It was a conscious choice to go out and investigate a topic, but the endeavor is done by a lone reporter. This term was coined by Chris Nolan at Spot-on, so really, I am not the one to define it — and I hope I’m doing justice to Albritton’s original conception. Either way, this is how I see “stand-alone journalism.”
“Participatory journalism” (Pro-Am Journalism):
This is the most basic form of citizen journalism that news organizations engage in. It occurs through basic comments on an article — when those comments add extra information, examples, or new views that the original writer left out or didn’t know about. These comments can be an incredible source of value to a story and are very easy to invoke (just ask). It is what Jay Rosen used to help research his recent LA Times editorial: Rosen explained to the DailyKos community that he was looking for examples where blogging was used to do journalism and the community gave over 250 comments that we then combed through. It was participatory — all you had to do was comment. Because it’s easy to invoke and easy for others to participate (commenting takes minutes) it happens all the time, it is just a part of the greater blogosphere culture. This is also the basis of “Pro-Am Journalism” when professional and armature reporters work together. Pro-Am journalism continues into networked and open source journalism, but this is where that relationship begins and I suspect it is where Pro-Am relationships are most common right now — regular commenters become trusted sources on topics that
they are experts in.
“Networked journalism”: Using “distributed reporting” (below) “networked journalism” is when groups of people come together through the Internet to work on a single story. Like stand-alone journalism it is a conscious decision, but the work is not done by a lone reporter. Instead, it requires a group of people. Networked journalism rests its fate on two principles: First — the “wisdom of the crowd,”
the notion that a large network of people will have a collective intelligence that is greater than any single reporter. The second is “crowdsourcing” (crowdsourced journalism is below), in this case — crowdsourcing is the idea that a group of people will be able to tackle a large investigation in a more efficient manner than a single reporter. A recent example of networked journalism that I was a part of was NewAssignment.Net’s OffTheBus project, where we gathered a group of 30-40 people to cover the CNN/YouTube Debates (The previous link describes that example of networked journalism — and here is some media commentary on that just for fun).
Right now I don’t think “networked journalism” has reached its full potential, but I am hopeful and ambitious.
“Open source journalism”: Okay, now we are getting into complicated territory, because open source is itself an umbrella term outside of journalism that is often misunderstood. First, open source journalism presupposes a network of people — multiple points (sources) of information. Like networked journalism (above), open source projects are collaborative by nature. But open source journalism adds two more nuances to networked journalism. Either (a: the re-release of stories or (b: sharing information among competitors (the second has amazing potential, but I don’t expect it to happen anytime soon).
The re-release of stories: In network journalism people work in collaboration on a single story. In
open source, they work together on a story that is constantly refined and republished. Example: A journalist works on a story and releases it to the public. Then, using participatory or network journalism, more reporting and information is added — and the story is re-worked and republished. This method can produce amazing results on some stories and won’t work for others. If I’m covering the election, I’ll need a
definitive story once the election results are in, an open source story will feel very anti-climatic. But if I’m covering development in my community, the story will probably last several months, lending itself
to new versions of the story every week.
Sharing of information: It goes against the principle of the “scoop,” yes — but open source software
goes against the principle of intellectual property and has still created amazing products. Imagine 100 local newspapers covering the same topic, like the No Child Left Behind Act. Each paper covers their
neighborhood schools, gathering the same information like graduation rates, average test scores and minutes spent preparing for the test. Each paper would have a story serving their local readers, but if they
SHARED that information with the other 99 papers, they could create a national view of the No Child Left Behind Act. That’s the added value of sharing information with your competitors. You lose the scoop, but you get to be part of a story that is greater than your single paper could ever produce on its own. More on this idea, I think this idea has enormous potential — but I don’t expect it to ever happen. It goes against every business notion that newspapers have — which is too bad, because on the Internet, alternative business models need to invoked. I still know a few papers that won’t even link to competitors. If they heard this idea, I’m sure they would send me out of the room laughing — yet any web savvy internet geek would probably agree with me: online you always benefit from sharing information — it wants to be free.
Open source journalism stories should be licensed under the Creative Commons, which will allow for the re-release and sharing of information.
My friend Roy Schestowitz wrote a great post on how open source software principles inform open source journalism. It’s a great read, seriously — I still go back to it every now and then to get my sci-fi journalism juices flowing.
“Distributed reporting”: This is a term to describe the method of reporting used in network or open source journalism. When groups of people, who are geographically dispersed throughout the world, work together on a single story. At NewAssignment.Net my technical title is “Director of Distributed
Reporting,” which is a short way of saying — when we want to engage in network or open source journalism, I reach into my grab-bag of free social networking tools, from Campfire to Ning, to simple wikis, to figure out the best way to let groups of people engage in distributed reporting. This isn’t a type of
citizen journalism, but a method. Just wanted to bring it up — thanks
for indulging me.
“Crowdsourced Journalism”: I believe crowdsourced journalism is new to the lexicon of citizen journalism. Since Assignment Zero, which rested its fate on the term, I’ve been hearing it more and more. I’m not sure if people use it in my presence because they think I want to hear it or because it has really entered the vocabulary — either way it needs to be defined. Problem is, I don’t know if I’m really the one to tackle it. This is probably the most difficult to define — and I won’t try to. But I will take this
space to rant about it. (If you have ideas, please comment).
Crowdsourcing, like open source, exists outside of journalism. It is a word I’ve thought a lot about (I’m helping Jeff Howe with research for his upcoming book on the topic). A simple definition of crowdsourcing – when volunteers are sought to do work that was formerly done by professionals. Think Threadless (T-shirt design) or iStockPhoto (photography).
Crowdsourcing is itself an umbrella term. It includes crowdfunding (see PJNET’s Representative Journalism), crowd voting (Digg), crowd production (Threadless), etc. The reason I think crowdsourced Journalism is hard to define is because it isn’t an act but an organizing principle. Crowdsourced journalism isn’t something you DO, it is something you partake in. You can be part of a crowdsourced journalism project and use participatory journalism. CS journalism is a mode, not an act. As a result, almost all acts of citizen journalism can be considered crowdsourced — it is a larger phenomena than journalism and it’s really up to journalists whether they want to label a project crowdsourced or not. For example, Brian Lehrer’s show recently did a crowdsourced journalism project, where listeners of the radio program called in to report how many SUV’s they counted on their block. But this project was an example of networked journalism. That it was “crowdsourced” would have been the case whether or not the Brian Lehrer show had owned that language or not.
There are lots of terms that are related to citizen journalism. These are just the words that I come across the most and wanted to take the time to sort out. The list is not definitive, nor am I the person who should define them. I just wanted to put my cards out on the table.
* On Wikipedia: That’s what makes Wikipedia in some ways a better encyclopedia than any other: Entries in Wikipedia might not match those from the Encyclopedia Britannica, but Wikipedia’s definitions were real decisions made by regular people, over and over again (assuming the act of NOT editing is a conscious one, which might be overestimating the participation on Wikipedia — but I digress). They are defacto the understanding /consensus that people have for a word.