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    Community Is Key to Participation in Citizen Media

    by Mark Glaser
    February 26, 2007

    i-2f33589bbacb335026e4cfb98dea9cb1-You Witness News.jpg
    There are so many citizen journalism sites that seem to be in search of communities to populate them. A site such as Yahoo’s You Witness News looks so simple, inviting people to submit their photos or videos of news they have witnessed. So you’ve got easy ways to submit material, and then you can check out what people have sent in. What’s missing is the element of community, of people working together to tell stories or share experiences.

    When I asked you what would motivate you to submit stories, photos or video to a particular citizen media site, your answers followed one theme: give us community, give us a sense of belonging. Yahoo’s Matt McAlister, who I believe actually lives in my physical community in Potrero Hill, San Francisco, said that my question was difficult to answer because people often do things for the meaning it brings them.

    “Successful community-based news sites enable people who care enough about a topic to either be the first to report on it or be clued in before less speedy outlets pick up on something,” he wrote on his blog. “It feeds into a competitive and sometimes gossipy human nature. Just ask your best reporters why they became reporters. Digg appeals to the reporter in all of us.”

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    Howard Owens reminds us that user-generated content should be viewed as part of a conversation rather than strictly as journalism.

    “I firmly believe that many people just want to have their say and make their contribution because they feel compelled to share what they know,” Owens wrote on his blog. “I think this is good for society. I think there is real value in protecting, extending, expanding and nurturing the conversation.”

    As for where Owens would contribute news that he witnessed, he said that he would report it in the most convenient place with an existing community — currently, that’s on his blog.

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    Steven Streight, who blogs as Vaspers the Grate, thinks that the blog format doesn’t work as well for collaboration as a wiki.

    “I have moved from the solo act of blog to the team collaboration of wikis,” he wrote. “A blog is trapped in the ‘listen to me’ while a wiki is necessarily a ‘listen to us’ or ‘listen to it,’ i.e., the wiki workspace of anonymous contributions that build into a grand treasury of user-customized information…Wiki dissolves the division between hearing about a problem (news) and getting off your butt and doing something about it (activism).”

    Jeremy Bante, however, threw cold water on Streight’s vision for wikis, saying he doesn’t trust anonymous collaborations if they don’t have accountability.

    “I don’t trust information without an author’s name attached to it,” he wrote. “I’m proud of my community contributions, and a venue that massages my ego would encourage me to contribute more. After I write something, I want to know that people are reading it — and not just a random middle school student in podunk looking for a current event for the day. I want to know that people who I know are reading it.”

    Again, that community aspect surfaces. We want our writing, our photos, our videos to resonate with people and make a difference in the community. As Nic Slater put it, “Just the idea that the site might be contributing to my community in a way that fosters actual community [would motivate me]. That it could bolster the forces against self-serving politicians, bureaucrats and business people. This strikes me as a very positive aspect of citizen journalism.”

    Of course there are obstacles against citizens trying to report corruption or problems around them — if they feel powerless in trying to fight larger institutions.

    “I would like to post news about the ongoing construction and conditions in my neighborhood, located in Rockland, Mass,” K. Curtis wrote. “However, when people write about conditions in this subsidized housing project, we get retaliated against and harassed. I’ve had such experiences; therefore, I’m forced to limit what I write about or photograph. Our corporate landlord(s) are politically connected, negligent, and violate laws.”

    Perhaps that’s where the bigger citizen media sites can help out, providing an umbrella of support for the whistle-blowers in the community. That might have been the role of newspapers in communities, but as their power wanes, perhaps citizen media sites (and newspaper companies that may run them some day) can step in to support these citizen muckrakers in tussles with the powerful.

    What do you think? What would motivate you to send in citizen reports, and where would you send them? Where do you get community news and where do you find community online? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    Tagged: journalism weblog
    • I’m into the “community” sense of a wiki, but not as a human relationship community. More a community of information itself, a treasury of data, a compilation of collective insight and skills.

      There can be very little comradarie or companionship in a wiki, forum, blog network, or what have you. You may be nice to people, and help them, and be valued, but is it really “community” all the time?

      Or can it be also just the sense of working toward a common goal, with the goal being the reward, with the work being the pleasure of it, and not the interactions with actual persons?

      It depends on the site.

      At discussion forums, you generally are in and out, get the answer to your question, then move on to the work that requires it.

      I wonder. Are there really sites where users “hang out” and “enjoy their stay”? I see chat rooms as being that way, perhaps a porn site. But most normal sites and even collaboration zones are a blend of personal and impersonal.

      We must humanize our sites (like with photos, video, audio podcasts, etc.), but we must also enable users to get the info or accomplish the task they need at the site.

    • What I meant to say is that a narcissistic pleasure in being praised or encouraged to contribute to a site is a lower motivation.

      When people care little for recognition and fame, and are more intent on solving a problem, disseminating information (like missing person sites during Katrina), or building a treasury of collective wisdom, the quality of contribution rises.

      If ego fuels input, we must question the agenda and motives of that input. Relatively selfless input is more reliable. This is why a wiki is different from a blog, and is more conducive for developing and increasing shared communal contributions.

      An adoring audience is not the value set of wiki members.

    • Peter Hodge

      This article hits the nail on the head for me. I want to feel free on sites io use. i want it to be independant and above all else to feel like i will not lose by making a honest comment. I think we some times forget the news is about the people, not about the news it self.

    • Yeah Peter. Sometimes we don’t want to “join” or “sign up” for a damn thing. We just want to get something done, and the heck with the “community” that hovers around the site. Nice, but I’m already involved in Too Many Communities.

      Does every software miracle have to have a “community” orbiting and infusing it? Perhaps all of them should, but participation overload, like the Luddite “info overload” complaint, arises and burdens us overwhelmingly.

      Often, we just want a free tool, a free service, a free research report, a free music mp3, all legally of course, the Share Economy, but we Don’t Have Time To Join Something.

      That must temper this whole discussion about online communities, user-generated content, universal content utopia, and whatever blogocombat duties seem necessary.

    • Mark,

      I recently started reading your posts and I think you are doing a fantastic job covering trends in the new media industry. You summarized everyones thoughts with “give us community, give us a sense of belonging.” I agree with this summary.

      I think the real sense of belonging will happen when traditional media realize the value of citizen and community driven reporting. There is already recognition of the value of non-traditional contributors on Video sites (ref: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/26/technology/26ecom.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print). These companies have the established presence and the reach via multiple distribution outlets (print, tv, online, mobile etc) that will enable citizen reporters to most impact the world and feel part of a community. When these companies realize that they no longer have to hire content creators internally and can rely on the content of communities and individuals to fill their media channels, then, we will definitely empower each and every person, anonymous or not, to participate in news creation.

      I would like to further this discussion as well. Please contact me via email.

    • Interesting article Mark. I run Citizen Image at http://www.citizenimage.com. Not surprisingly we focus on the image side of citizen reporting. We have deliberately avoided building yet another community site to attract such content. We think there are enough of them out there and so we are instead concentrating on working with existing online communities
      (in particular image sharing sites and news organizations) to give their members a
      seamless way to opt in image content for further distribution. We think ease of opting in, getting credit (both monetary and acknowledgements) and coverage are the ultimate motivators .

      With the exception of a few new citizen journalism-focused destinations (like nowpublic or ohmynews) we believe that the future hubs of citizen journalism are going to be, perhaps ironically, where you currently get your news – the websites of your daily, local or national newspapers, TV news stations and online news services. Regardless of whether they are getting paid for their content or just getting a credit, a New York times reader is going to see getting their citizen reports/images/video into the online or print version of the NY Times as the ultimate motivator. In the image / video sharing space, the same motivation applies to those that find community in sites like Flickr or Youtube but I think ultimately I think that the focus of the current news organizations will lead to them getting the lions share of this content long term – provided of course that they adapt and embrace their own citizen journalism platforms and reader community.

    • Wand Taylor

      i think community blogs should share important information for all to benefit. the internet world media needs a USERS VOICE for check and balance of the all-powerful Googles! a really good USERS VOICE would get their attention, a union of the faithful against tyranny.

      E.G. I need a forum for google atrocities — not sponsored by google who just ignores anyone with a legitimate complaint by saying: “its free” what do you expect? i expect what is promised — or reasonable resolution of any problem. shouldn’t they be forced to let me close out of any problem feature (page creator) without losing my email account? Are files uploaded to them – forever their property — when the presenter is unable to delete or recover them?

      as a retired 30-yr. veteran of high tech – programming, systems analysis, trouble-shooting field engineer – i shouldn’t be ignored. i have been fighting them for 8 months and i would be in court, but i have no legal grounds! Can reason prevail today??

    • Debbie carter

      I think i would be honest on things such as people like doctors fireman policeman all make mistakes I’m talking about family personal mistakes with their spouse that should be settled between them without force of lose of their job and lied to and tell if they resign they could keep their certification, I think buiness in areas that don’t belong that have been reported in county need to be closed without having to put your name on public file for fear of some people car lots being opened in nice little community’s that have no business being there trash dumbed out where it doesn’t belong bring honest back who in our town of Dalton GA hast made a mistake I’m not not talking about a crime just a family mistake who got caught who got away with it drugs being sold children being reported telling the systems themselves they are being abused going unnoticed old people not able to pay for drugs and bills, people getting rich stealing from one and another where is our honesty gone people being laid off from jobs if they have some one in their family who is a financial burden on the Ins company they pay for people used to want to move to the south now they want to move own why? does anyone care we all cant afford the country club we all cant afford to send our children to public schools but if we where all rich and dint like to work on cars pick up our trash ect. who would do it our society has go lazy we all need love acceptance food housing and no matter how small our home is we can keep our community clean we need a program for non profit training service dogs therapy dogs and companion dogs Ive wrote all the way to the white house trying to get a non profit program started one helpless pet at a time one disabled person helped at a time slow but helpful make equipement be paid for by medicare or cheap enough to buy. i could get into a million thins i say look thru the eyes into the heart be a part of the solution instead of the problem but one final thing illegal is illegal. Debbie c

    • Debbie carter

      I think i would be honest on things such as people like doctors fireman policeman all make mistakes I’m talking about family personal mistakes with their spouse that should be settled between them without force of lose of their job and lied to and tell if they resign they could keep their certification, I think buiness in areas that don’t belong that have been reported in county need to be closed without having to put your name on public file for fear of some people car lots being opened in nice little community’s that have no business being there trash dumbed out where it doesn’t belong bring honest back who in our town of Dalton GA hast made a mistake I’m not not talking about a crime just a family mistake who got caught who got away with it drugs being sold children being reported telling the systems themselves they are being abused going unnoticed old people not able to pay for drugs and bills, people getting rich stealing from one and another where is our honesty gone people being laid off from jobs if they have some one in their family who is a financial burden on the Ins company they pay for people used to want to move to the south now they want to move own why? does anyone care we all cant afford the country club we all cant afford to send our children to public schools but if we where all rich and dint like to work on cars pick up our trash ect. who would do it our society has go lazy we all need love acceptance food housing and no matter how small our home is we can keep our community clean we need a program for non profit training service dogs therapy dogs and companion dogs Ive wrote all the way to the white house trying to get a non profit program started one helpless pet at a time one disabled person helped at a time slow but helpful make equipement be paid for by medicare or cheap enough to buy. i could get into a million thins i say look thru the eyes into the heart be a part of the solution instead of the problem but one final thing illegal is illegal. Debbie c

    • Hyacinth Ezeamii

      The community-based concept is great but I do not know how you will make it different from (a) traditional media that are now transforming to both electronic format and the lgacy format and (b) the ordinary, new electronic news brokers/outlets including blogs and others.

      Advise me.
      Hyacinth Ezeamii

    • Hyacinth Ezeamii

      The community-based concept is great but I do not know how you will make it different from (a) traditional media that are now transforming to both electronic format and the lgacy format and (b) the ordinary, new electronic news brokers/outlets including blogs and others.

      Advise me.
      Hyacinth Ezeamii

    • Hyacinth Ezeamii

      In the posting above, I was refering to the Community-based Citizen Media concept; how is it different from other formats?

    • Kristin

      I just have one question to ask where can I go online to report drugs being sold in my community without anyone knowing it was me?

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