Citizen journalism: Square peg, round hole

Howard Owens points to a Media Life story quoting UNC J-prof Frank Fee, raising questions about "citizen journalism:"

“It goes back to the days of country correspondents or stringers. They are limited in what they can do, and newspapers have never been very good about training those people. ... I have seen some horrendous mistakes made by people who don’t know what they are doing."

I think the real problem is that journalists (and journalism professors) keep pounding a square peg into a round hole and then complaining about the fit.

People in general are not clamoring to become amateur journalists. Publishers: Chill out. This is not a way for you to get free labor, cut the newsroom staff, and preserve your margins.

That's not the point.

People want to participate in a community conversation. We can build a separate and new business model around facilitation of that online conversation.

That conversation is good for traditional journalism because it builds social capital -- connections, roots -- and interest in local civic life.

And by becoming participative listeners in those online conversations, our professional reporters can get a deeper insight into the community, a better read on what people think is important. They can collect leads, practical tips on stories that need to be pursued. They can do a better job.

And they can put a more human face on the journalism process, helping repair the newspaper brand.

We need to stop confusing ourselves about participative media. Yes, there is significant overlap between the social functions of traditional journalism and the social functions of partitipative media and community conversation. But they are not the same thing, they are not replacements for one another, and we should all stop the sniping from the respective camps.



I've seen the same vein running through so many articles by journalists about "citizen journalism" that it makes me not even want to use the term anymore. And I think so much of it comes from an arrogance and disconnect from the people who are involved not just in citizen journalism but in internet coversation and interaction in general

Yes, people like to talk with one another. They sometimes like to write about their communities, too, and might even think of what they do as "citizen journalism) This doesn't mean they want the jobs of the local journalists, but that they just want to share the information they've gleaned from their connections with their neighbors. Is this such a bad thing? Why do so many think they should be the ones to have a monopoly over information and who talks about it?

Maybe it's money--and the idea that there's an exchange of information where there's little, if any money, being made from that exchange. But it makes me wonder if some journalists aren't participating in conversations not because they can't get with the culture out here, but because they're just not going to make money from it (jaundiced view, I know...)

I've been saying this is needed for a while now. Oh for the resources to do it on a bigger scale! ;) I'm doing what I can now, though, working with a person here, a person there.

I look at my local competition (The Star Press) and they've added comments to stories. Well, kinda. They've hooked their uber-expensive CMS up to phpBB. Heh. Ok. That makes a lot of sense. The icing on the cake, though, is that, for the most part, they leave the moderation of it up to 'volunteer moderators.' (An idea I implemented while I was there. I spent many unpaid hours manning the forums when I was there, though.)

In any case, big media are looking for tools and scripts and widgets. They just don't get it.

BTW, how's Drupal 5.0 working out for you? I'm gonna wait til more of the mods get upgraded, I think. Besides, I'm still working on getting some sites from 4.6 to 4.7! ;)

Steve, very well put. I've come to believe that newspapers will never be able to "turn the Titanic" in time to adapt to this phenomenon. A basic problem with newspapers is that they have branded themselves over the last several centuries as the guys that "report on" what is happening. People expect them to follow up on a lead and write a beautifully penned article on their event. A "community conversation" is well suited for the Internet via blogs, message posts, and local portals. Replicating that in print is difficult (believe me, I've found this out over the last 3 years of doing my online/offline newsletter) and users have been trained to sit back and let the newspapers "report on" them.

Remember that two years ago, newspapers didn't even want to sell banner ads on their websites. They seen that as eroding their print advertising (why buy a print ad at $300/col. in per day when you can get an online ad for $10/day?). Now, they are running to every online start-up they can think of to engage Internet users and sway them back to the newsprint mother ship. It won't work. Newspapers need to stick with what they do, partner with local websites or blogs to print these online discussions, and remember their 60-year-old-plus base that depends on them for their news every morning.

Tom: Thanks. As regards to newspapers not wanting to sell banner ads ... most did, of course, but the problem always is lack of organizational cohesion. What the publisher wants isn't necessarily what the workforce wants, and a lot of the middle layer of any organization is made of people who actively resist change.

Kpaul: I've found a couple of bugs in Drupal 5-beta1 and 2, one of which you noted in mail ... I logged it at Thanks for pointing it out; I had no idea it was happening. Overall, though, I really like the changes in the system.

Well said Steve. People don't want to be "citizen journos." And only a few want to make the effort to share.

Couple more steps I'd like to see from our ink-n-paper uncles:

1. Stop ghettoizing user-gen content. Yeah, real enlightened to let users post content off the main site (YourHub) or in sparsely distributed tabloids. On our site, we don't distinguish on hubs between staff, aggregated, user-gen or content partner. (Of course being transparent once you get there.)

2. Stop launching blogs for things that make better sense in other formats! My thoughts on this here.


What attracted you to Drupal? To tell the truth, when I started eNews Park Forest, I didn't even look at another CMS besides Joomla. Joomla has served me well, especially the magazine component, but I have heard good things about Drupal since. If some major newspapers are using it as a solution, I'm wondering why, and if it has an edge over Joomla.

Gary Kopycinski
Editor and Publisher
eNews Park Forest

Early in 1995 we installed and thoroughly tested half a dozen open-source content management and blogging tools, including Mambo. Drupal stood out in a couple of key areas: code quality, extensibility/flexibility, and strength of its open-source deevlopment community.

Mambo was a runner-up, but we had issues with its code and its openness. Shortly after we launched, the Mambo project had a complete meltdown that led to a revolt and a code fork that became known as Joomla. I'm glad we didn't get caught in the middle of that. The Joomla community may have stabilized by now; I don't know.

Some of our magazines are using Joomla, but we're not interested in it for our local sites. Our focus is not on publishing "online editions" of anything, but rather on facilitating an open community conversation in which our journalists may participate.

As it played out, it has been possible to stick with Joomla 4.5.x and use just about any extension developed for Joomla 1.0.x since the fork. Increasingly a number of commercial developers provide extensions that are simultaneously (or through different file packages) compatible with Mambo, Joomla (10. and 1.5), Elxis, and/or MiaCMS. (Elxis is another fork that occurred about the same time as Joomla for seemingly non-political reasons, and MiaCMS is a recent fork by the developers of Mambo who picked up after the Joomla fork.) It is also nearly as simple to "upgrade" from Mambo 4.5.x to Joomla 1.0.x as it is to upgrade either system. In the Drupal community there is no real commercial third party market to speak of, and extension development is very centralized at Joomla and Mambo are much more diversified, partly due to the forks. There is a lot of good in this, probably far more good than bad. Drupal afficianados tend to think it's all bad simply due to the idols of their tribe/the limitations of the horizons of their experience and thus their imagination of what is possible.