Apr 16

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Citizen Journalism Goes REALLY Local

The first memory I have of citizen journalism playing a major role in a news story was when Seung-Hui Cho opened fire at Virginia Tech. There was a video that a student took on his cell phone in which you could hear the shots going off in one of the buildings, and I remember watching that video my freshman year of college and being absolutely horrified that I was watching and listening to people die.

I know that citizen journalism was alive before that event, but that was the one that did it for me. That was the moment I realized what citizen journalism was and just how vital it was to the news industry.

The Washington Times has launched a full page in their print edition that will be filled with news stories from average citizens in the local area, according to the article, “Times embraces return of ‘citizen journalism,’” written by Jennifer Harper of the Times.

It appears that the Times is trying to make the newsroom cuts work for them instead of against them – they are inviting the people of the communities to write for them so they can get as wide a range of coverage as possible without having to use too much of their own budget. I definitely appreciate their creativity.

“We know there are many issues and communities we have not been able to fully cover within the confines of a newsroom budget, and we are excited to empower citizens within those communities to provide us news that will interest all our readers, ” Executive Editor John Solomon said.

This article was written by a reporter that is on staff at the Washington Times. This is a dilemma that has always intrigued me – people reporting on their own newspapers. I realize that it has to be done. Often, publications make decisions like this that only they know about, so how else are they going to distribute that information outside of writing about it themselves?

But then you have to consider the whole issue of in-house bias. When a person works for a paper, you would hope that they would be supportive of his or her paper, and would be positively biased toward it. However, is that really the person that should be reporting on something the paper is doing?

In this case, I think the reporter does a very good job. Despite being a staff member, she presents the decision very directly and mostly in a largely unbiased manner, albeit in a very positive light. However, she is sure to include pieces of information to rebut the criticisms that could be brought against the citizen journalism page, such as unreliable or low-quality journalism.

“While we are expanding our reach through this project, we will not be diminishing our editorial quality. Citizen stories must meet the same rigorous standards for accuracy, precision, fairness, balance and ethics as those written by our newsroom staff,” Mr. Solomon said. Each citizen journalist is provided a set of rules for their reporting and newswriting, as well as copies of The Times’ policies governing ethics, anonymous sources and other journalistic standards.

I also appreciate that she brings the fact that citizen journalism has been around for a really long time into the piece. She provides some good insight from a media analyst at the Poynter Institute on how this type of journalism is an old tradition, and that the Times is merely modernizing the technique and doing it a little differently. I think it was a good move to bring in the voice of someone outside of the Times’ newsroom to weigh in on something that is very in-house.

I personally think that this is a very interesting move on the part of the Times. I think it is a creative way to supplement a newsroom that has been having to make cuts, and I hope for their sake that this works. I think it will be a very popular page, because people will be writing about things they want to know about, but I can’t help but wonder if it will really work. Despite the “rigorous standards” the Times will be imposing, it’s a hard thing to get inexperienced people to do the kind of reporting that newsroom has come to expect. It’s going to be a lot of work, but I do think it can work.

And I hope it does – volunteer journalism could be a partial answer to the big question newspapers are facing right now.

Permanent link to this article: http://thewashingtonjournalismcenter.com/?p=512

1 comment

  1. Heather Surls (Donckels)

    This is really interesting! Thanks for posting about this…I probably wouldn’t have heard about it otherwise. :o )

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