Are We Ready for Citizen Journateerism?

    by Paul Lamb
    September 28, 2008

    Thanks to massive adoption of blogging and other do-it-yourself Web 2.0 tools like Twitter we have seen an explosion in citizen journalism in recent years. That goes without saying on a blog like this. But there is a related trend emerging which is perhaps not so apparent. Lets (rather clumsily) call it Citizen Journateerism. Citizen Journateerism = Citizen Journalism + Volunteerism. Basically that means ordinary folks leveraging social media tools to help people in need. I’m not talking about political or community-relevant reporting and opinioning, which is certainly a kind of volunteer community service, but about the re-purposing of citizen journalism tools in response to life and death issues on the ground. Think of a CNN “storm center”, only created by your Uncle Harry and not a professional news team.

    The first time I started paying attention to this trend was about a year ago when Nate Ritter of San Diego created a Twitter channel to provide up to date information on a series of wild fires that ravaged Southern California.

    More recently, and in response to hurrican Gustav, Internet activist and a social media strategist for NPR, Andy Carvin, put together an independent Hurricane Information Center on the fly. The site was a grassroots effort that soon gathered momentum among other tech savvy volunteers as Gustav’s more menacing cousin Ike came on the scene.


    What makes Carvin’s effort particularly interesting, other than the fact that it was built on a social networking platform (Ning) and has more Web 2.0 bells and whistles than you will likely find on any mainstream media site, is it’s spontaneous and completely voluntary nature. It wasn’t created by and for NPR, or any other major news network, and yet has some of the best information and features for people impacted by or following major hurricanes in the United States. it integrates up to the moment national weather service information with local reports of people on the ground, shows maps of hurricane locations, and helps people find immediate assistance through zipcode based tracking tools. After Ike touched down, it streamed useful ads from Craigslist with offers of assistance and housing for hurricane victims. And the site is ready to go for use in up and coming storms.

    The Hurricane Information Center is not pretty from a user design standpoint, but the array of information and services provided is extremely impressive. And without any apparent resources besides some technical expertise and a commitment to get people practical information ASAP, it is exactly what you would expect for last minute, community-driven project.

    So is the Hurricane Information Center a bell weather for a new kind of citizen journalism, and are we likely to see more of this happening as average do gooders leverage free and open information sharing and reporting tools to help people locally, nationally and internationally in times of crisis?


    Finally, what other examples of “Citizen Journateerism” are people aware of and is there a different or better name for this stuff?

    Tagged: andy carvin citizen journalism ning reporting twitter

    4 responses to “Are We Ready for Citizen Journateerism?”

    1. Actually, I’m not the online community manager for PBS. I coordinate social media strategy for NPR. But thanks for the plug nonetheless.

      Actually, I don’t think this is a new trend at all, and it predates Web 2.0. I’ve been observing online responses to disasters since ’95, during both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Kobe earthquake. Even back then, people were using email lists and USENET groups to coordinate responses, such as donating money, finding places to give blood and the like.

      The Hurricane Information Center is very much of an extension of the work I and others did during the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and Katrina, which in turn were an extension of the SEPT11INFO group I created on 9/11. The tools change and make it easier to collaborate, but the online community has always come together to help in whatever ways it can.

    2. Paul Lamb says:

      Andy: Thanks for the corrections…just made some changes on the original post.

      While volunteers and ad hoc information sharing networks have been collaborating online around disaster response for many moons, as you point out, the addition of informal and publicly available reporting tools (i.e.,Twitter) and the resulting crossover into journalism seems fairly new though. It’s a subtle distinction, but one I think worth pointing out. Regardless of how it ultimately gets categorized, It’s great that you and others are doing this work and absolutely worth highlighting!

    3. Paul,

      I agree with Andy that this kind of thing has been happening a lot in the past, much before Twitter. But, the “2.0” rage is starting to popularize and allow aggregation of the information much easier.

      Case in point, there’s a group of volunteers who are working on building the next iteration in aggregation and information dissemination. ( http://blog.perfectspace.com/2008/09/27/emergeny-crisis-info/ ).

      In fact, if you’re so inclined, we’d love to see some support from the communities who think this is as important as we do. Simply voting up the idea on IdeaBlob ( http://ideablob.com/ideas/3344-Disaster-Emergency-Info-Now- ) could win the group $10k for their efforts. Needless to say, they/we will be working to finish the project with or without the money. But, if you’re inclined to say “thanks”, feel free to do so with a vote.

      Thanks, also, for the kudos and conversation. Much appreciated.

    4. Paul, Yes, Andy Carvin and the Hurricane Information Center are very impressive (as is FluWikie http://www.fluwikie.com for pandemic flu preparation). Nate, I’m interested to learn about your Disaster Emergency Info Now and work together if possible.

      Our Minciu Sodas laboratory http://www.ms.lt organized the Pyramid of Peace http://www.pyramidofpeace.net in 2008 to avert genocide in Kenya. We organized 100 peacemakers on the ground (reaching out to the various tribes, engaging gangs, opening roads, saving lives) and 100 helpers online (chat, wiki, letters, RSS, Skype) see http://www.worknets.org/wiki.cgi?HelpKenyans with news from thirty locations.

      My business priority now is to set up an online help center staffed by Africans, Eastern Europeans, etc. for small stipends, where people come to get help and give help for free, but we also provide more consistent service for clients, subscribers, and we are ready to help and respond during emergencies. I’m interested to work together to develop business opportunities. We have a ning website and a group http://worknets.ning.com/group/helproom Peace.

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