Reading 1: The State of Citizen Media

Here’s our first reading … might be more coming over the weekend, so stay tuned …

Check out this report on citizen media from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It’s a good overview of some of the key terminology and trends we’ll touch on this semester. After you read this, put the report within the larger context of major trends noted by PEJ.

What do you find most interesting? Surprising? Disconcerting? Good, bad or otherwise?

Here’s one thought to consider: In it’s “major trends” report, PEJ says, “The prospects for user-created content, once thought possibly central to the next era of journalism, for now appear more limited, even among “citizen” sites and blogs.” Why? And might they be wrong? … Consider this report in the context of your lived experience. What’s happening out there, online? Where are we going from here?

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14 Responses to “Reading 1: The State of Citizen Media”


  1. 1 Caitlin W September 1, 2008 at 5:33 pm

    Some of the major conclusions drawn by the PEJ did not surprise me; for example, I absolutely see a trend forming in the breakdown of the “walled garden.” A majority of news articles I read link to previous articles within the same publication, and increasingly to stories from other sources. Also, the idea that news is becoming less of a product and more of a service makes sense. That part also frightens me to some degree – not that journalism will ever become completely obsolete, because I do believe that there will always be a need for news reporting in some form or fashion, but that people do expect so much more from journalists while trusting journalists less. I think that is an important question: how can we, as journalists, regain the trust of the citizenry?

    Other findings completely surprised me. For example, that citizen journalism is actually more limited than many of the major news sites in terms of user-created input is very curious to me. I don’t feel that I have looked at enough “citizen” sites to weigh in on this finding personally, but because of the vast numbers of websites out there, I feel a little cynical about this finding. 64 sites are certainly a lot to dissect, but I am sure there are thousands of “citizen” and mainstream sites to be found, and that many others of these probably offer a lot more user input than those analyzed in the study. On the other hand, if upon further analysis the findings are upheld, I could think of a few explanations. One comes from personal experience: I created a travel blog for my friends and family to follow my experiences when I was studying in Germany last semester. I kept the blog open, but didn’t really believe anyone would find the blog or use it if they didn’t know who I was. However, near the end of my travels, a random poster blogged some nasty comments about one of my experiences. I didn’t delete the comment, but instead invited the poster to talk to me about why he/she felt the way he/she did. Still, when a website is focusing on important, controversial issues that might inspire lots of nasty, pointless internet “battles,” I can understand where a citizen-editor might feel the need to screen some comments as to avoid the “trolls” that post with such ingenious remarks as, “You suck,” etc. On the other hand, I feel that ultimately, if all comments were allowed, other users would be able to rid themselves of “trolls” by coming together and criticizing mindless comments. I think editors of ALL journalistic websites should trust the public a little more. (Then again, reading the comments section of ANY of the AOL.com news stories is always a horrific and mindless experience.) Another reason for this phenomenon, if true, could be what the PEJ cited as a lack of experience.

    Another surprising trend that I absolutely believe, though it saddens me, is the narrowing focus of the news media. It makes little sense that the abundant resource that is the internet would spawn thousands upon thousands of reports of the same story, tweaked only slightly with each re-telling, but there are definitely large periods of the same story being covered and re-covered until everyone is blue in the face. I think a perfect example of this is the Michael Phelps phenomenon during the Olympics. I think the news completely dropped the ball on this, because everywhere you turned, it would seem that we had only one American even participating in the Olympics. I suppose the idea was that we needed a “hero” to focus our energies and support on; however, though I am sure Phelps is a great guy, I found myself sort of hating him by the end of his accomplishments and feeling completely sorry for all of the other Olympians on his team. This is just one small recent example that I noticed, and truly it was most noticeable on television; perhaps if I had been a little more tuned-in to the online world of news during the Olympics, I wouldn’t have felt so bombarded with Phelps-mania.

  2. 2 Samantha G. September 2, 2008 at 6:45 pm

    The reading breaks down citizen journalism in its entirety. I found the number of young people using web 2.0 to be a perfect indicator of how many people will be reading and contributing to online news in the near future, which is huge.

    However, that idea also makes me think of all the people who will not grow/evolve with this group and may be left behind. Also, some of the statistics presented showed that individuals with higher educations were more tuned in than others. Thus, making the ideas and would be opinions on information and issues from people who are not reading or contributing to this news, non accessible.

    This makes me think that although more ‘citizens’ will be able to share their thoughts, and make them available for other ‘citizens’ to see…there were will be some sort of gentrification of news. Where everything will be read and written by the same sort of person, leaving populations of people out of the loop.

    The fact that non-profits are getting involved with citizen journalism is wonderful. It seems that the Center for Citizen Media and The Sunlight Foundation are almost needed entities in this news system. These organizations will help eliminate some of the questionable elements associated with citizen journalism by providing education, training and hands-on campaigns.

    A point I found a bit disconcerting was that:

    “Newsmakers themselves, from the Pentagon to the presidential candidates to humanitarian and activist groups, began placing content directly on YouTube and MySpace as a way of countering what might be in the mainstream press or even beating the press to the punch.”

    When people with specific agendas, which are potentially biased use the citizen journalism card to post persuasive materials online promoting a viewpoint, and present their information as fact… it seems unfair and manipulative.

    The reasons that citizen journalism may appear to be more limited make sense. If there were not gatekeepers people would probably get sued for liable all the time. I feel that online etiquette is not evolved to the point where people can have that kind of control. That is why I found it beneficial that non-profits are stepping in and providing outlets that allow citizen journalists to make them selves more credible sources.

  3. 3 racas September 2, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    I think the part I care about most right now is finding how I can make a living off journalism. The PEJ report answers this question bluntly: the profession is changing from a consumer product to a service. It’s becoming more personal. I suddenly imagine the way people used to go shopping for clothes, visiting a tailor and having suits made exclusively for them. Will we become personal tailors of information?

    I was not surprised by the nature of the web as a gateway to other places, that visiting a website now is only making a stop in your search for information. But I reflect on the idea of search and destination, and wonder whether the new nature of news will have good or bad effects on people. It might be good because all your doubts are covered, there an unlimited amount of information out there. But at the same time, if the user doesn’t feel they’re getting anywhere, will that cause anxiety? Will people feel that they never get enough and is that healthy? You know there’s a saying that goes something like “Stop and smell the flowers?” I always tend to wonder about these things, how people will be affected by this technology, both those who receive it and those who use it to send their message out.

    And I’m happy to read about the idea that user-created content appears to be more limited than people thought it would be. I’m afraid that citizens will take over our jobs, our profession that we’ve dedicated so many years to study and practice. I’m not saying citizens shouldn’t be watchdogs, that they shouldn’t create councils to make sure elected officials are doing their job and working for a better society. But what I’m saying is that if everybody takes on the role of journalist, then what will be our competitive advantage?

  4. 4 jbechdel September 2, 2008 at 9:44 pm

    Aside from the one trend noted in the original post (user-created content possibly diminishing in its importance), I don’t find many of the trends listed by PEJ to be that surprising. I found the “one week study,” which found the iPhone to dominate Digg and the battle over immigration to dominate mainstream media, to be particularly amusing. In interviews I’ve done with bloggers, they all say that technology blogs have the natural advantage (in terms of amount of content) because of the medium on which they’re writing–a technological one. It almost seems intuitive that people write about technological trends on media and interfaces that are inherently technological (a little like how we’re writing about blogs, to an extent, on a blog).
    The financial future of blogs was another point of interest for me. Although I write my own blog and derive a good bit of pleasure from working on it, I still manage to be amazed that people dedicate themselves to this “service” largely for free. Of course there are certain benefits to publishing citizen-journalism and blogs(notierity, as the Huffington Post seems to claim). Eileen Smith, who runs the political blog “In the Pink Texas” became a prominent blogger in Austin for two years before being named editor of Texasmonthly.com. But is everyone trying to make a name for themselves or get a promotion?
    The interconnectivity of traditional news sites, blogs and citizen-journalism is another point of interest. I completely agreed with the findings by the PEJ in this regard. Just as someone sees “related videos” on YouTube and clicks on them, so too do people do this with their news. In general, if someone clicks on a story, it’s because it interests them in some way. So when related stories are listed on the side for your perusing pleasure, it only makes sense that people would follow those links to other sites as well. I do wonder though, about the “chicken and the egg” question that naturally comes up. Are the majority of people reading the blogs and going to MSM sites, or vice-versa? The stats at the end of the article seemed a little foggy to me.

  5. 5 Brittany September 2, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    The thing that stood out to me most in this article was the discussion of the financial future of blogs, particularly the fact that ad spending on blogs is expected to increase. This caught my eye for two very different reasons, the first being that ads on webpages can be annoying and obtrusive, and I hate to imagine that they are soon to proliferate in order to finance the ever growing popularity of blogging. It called to mind the times that ads come up on top of the material I am reading or trying to look at, and it made me shudder just a little bit.

    On the other hand, from the perspective of a designer, the addition of ad spending spells out good things for a future job market. I recently interned at a non-profit that did all its design work in house. We often would create fliers for fund raising events and then turn them into splash pages for the website or smaller e-versions for email attachments. We also flirted with the idea of creating an even smaller media and placing them as ads on corresponding websites. In this respect, the idea of more web ads can mean more work for an in house designer or for the design firm hired to handle such things. And in a field where work is definitely not a guarantee, I like this news.

  6. 6 Mollie B. September 2, 2008 at 10:44 pm

    I am not at all surprised by the PEJ finding that despite the proliferation of blogs the majority of Americans have yet to accept them as significant news sources. When I think of blogs I typically think of citizens using them as a soap box of sorts to voice their opinions about various issues. Although I think blogs are a good way to get the public involved in community issues and can play a significant role in creating change, I think that because a lot bloggers aren’t journalists by profession is reason the that I wouldn’t use them as a source for news. I’ll admit that I haven’t read many blogs in the past, but the ones that I have read have been blogs of my friends who are simply writing about different events going on in their lives.

    In the section titled “Is it News?” that contrasts the different issues dealt with in mainstream media and on the user-news sites, I think the content found on the user-news sites acts more like a forum for discussion. We have the mainstream media to give us the news of the day from Washington and the war in Iraq, and although these are important issues I think many people may not be comfortable in talking about them in everyday conversation. The content that is found on the user-news sites then brings us the most popular talk on the street, or on the web rather, which could be topics that people are more willing to discuss with one another in a conversation.

  7. 7 Holley N September 2, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    I always understood the newsrooms’ concern with credibility and fact-checking in the online world, but I was surprised to read that most Americans don’t accept blogs as a significant news source. So, I think, for that reason, TV news will always be around. However, now newsrooms are establishing blogs in their realization of their need to stay with or ahead of the curve.

    On another note, I find it really disconcerting that a lot of these citizen journalist sites do not offer users as much access to feedback as some of the traditional news sites. I feel the reason these “citizen” sites are created is to offer a voice to concerns that are perhaps voiceless in the mainstream media. However, it seems to me, the traditional sites are trying to conform more to the “idea” behind the “citizen” sites and allow feedback, while the citizen journalism sites are growing more and more like the traditional news outlets with their “gatekeeping” actions.

    As far as the prospects for user-generated content is concerned, I think while there may be some limitations out there, as the article suggests, I really believe we are only in the beginning stages of an even bigger boom of user-generated content. I think this is evident in the traditional media’s efforts to merge into this user-generated world. For instance, Fox now has UReport and CNN has ireport. But, beyond the mainstream trying to break into this world, everyday the numbers of blogs and YouTube videos are growing, and I think we have, and will continue to see an explosion of this user-generated content on blogs and “citizen” sites as more people realize the voice they can have through this online phenomenon.

  8. 8 kwalla September 2, 2008 at 9:37 pm

    Mostly, I thought the article was not surprising at all. Blogging is gaining in popularity, still mostly used for “life stories” rather than journalistic news, and most blogs are not sponsored by ads enough to cover their costs. Still, it is evident that blogging could be headed in the direction of news more in the future.

    “Despite the proliferation of blogs, survey data suggest most Americans have yet to accept them as significant news sources.” So, while blog readers currently read blogs more for entertainment than news, it must say something that 95% of news websites have staff bloggers. What is most surprising is that

    What is most disconcerting, although, I don’t think I’ll be losing any sleep over it, is the lack of user-created content (i.e. feedback posts/replies/reader messages). This surprised me as well because most blogs that I have come in contact with seem to always leave room for reply. That is a big part of the novelty and beauty of blogging. It adds to the complexity of the communication model by making every article simply the starting point for a discussion as wide as the web itself–at least in theory. I see this status changing quickly in the world of blogging because I see few dangers or downsides to it and it seems to be headed toward the norm.

    I think in the future we will see more and more reader interest AND participation in blogs. Much like the rise in the use of email and social networking sites, blogging will take the world (well, the world wide web, at least) by storm, creating and expanding the forum for discussion of any and every topic one could think of.

  9. 9 Caroline Page September 2, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I was not surprised to read in the PEJ citizen media report that many people still do not consider Web 2.0 an accredited source for news. Although the media’s coverage of international and domestic issues is narrower than desired, I believe Americans would still prefer to go to mainstream media to receive news. Anyone can post a blog or add to website such as Wikipedia, so how do readers know if someone is credible or not? I feel there are many pieces of news not reported on because the media reverts to stories that “sell.” There is an obsession with covering political figures and those in the public eye and I have to admit to following such stories. As much as viewers complain of an excessive amount of coverage on entertainment and scandal stories, Americans love to watch that type of news, so the media has gotten into a viscous cycle.

    I was surprised by the large number of people who go to citizen journalism sites, such as Newsvine. Additionally how most sites like that are not making a profit. As some other classmates voiced, I do not have very much knowledge on citizen journalism, so am interested to find out more about such sites and blogs.

    The exponentially growing use of video sites such as YouTube is fascinating to me and something I really enjoy in today’s changing online world. The way that popular videos spread like wildfire is such a reflection of our society’s obsession with visual media and social networking. It is disconcerting at times to know how easy it is for items to be posted about any given individual on YouTube or Facebook, which forces me to be cautious about the material that the public is able to view about me.

    None of the major trends in the second report astonished me and were as I would expect. As revolutionary as it is that the news has evolved into an instantaneous product – constantly changing and following more of a “breaking news” model – I feel that has gone overboard. There is an increased likelihood that stories could be reported inaccurately because news sources feel pressured to report issues immediately after they find out about them.

  10. 10 pieper12 September 3, 2008 at 12:41 am

    After I read the article and have heard other professors talk about the boom of Web 2.0 and about the decrease in traditional news sources, I decided to ask my roommates what they thought.

    One is a sociology major and the other a history major. Both of them come from different cities, different backgrounds and they both agreed that they like the traditional newspaper style reading. They see it as a more relaxing, traditional way to obtain news and they do not like getting their news online because of all of the advertisements.

    I just found their answer to be interesting especially after reading about the immense amount of outside links given on one webpage. I do have to agree with them that sometimes it can appear extremely overwhelming when almost everything on the Home page is written in blue and underlined. Sometimes you click on that story, read one of the given “related stories”, and so on, and then you find yourself, an hour and half later, reading about the construction of the Olympic facilities when you were just wanting to read about Michael Phelps’ victories! I am torn because that is one of the amazing things someone can do with this ability, but then it is hard to just read the headline news of the day due to being immersed in a single topic.

    I find it disconcerting that this boom of blogging is somewhat inhibited due to the lack of funds and the lack of time to put into the blogs. Like the author said, although a blogger does not have to pay anything upfront, the amount of time ends up raising other costs.

    Although there is some skepticisim in this new “citizen journalism” world, I do think there will be much debate on the amount of editing that can go into blogs, which I personally think should be monitored for obscene content for children, but for the most part they should have their rights protected. That is what this whole new idea of citizen journalism is all about.

  11. 11 Briana C September 3, 2008 at 1:33 am

    As we mentioned in class, “mainstream” journalism is beginning to embrace citizen journalism. The reference to web 2.0 reminds me of the video that we watched in class. I understand this term now as an interactive, 2 way “communication” if you will between the internet and the people that teach the machine. “We are the machine,” because the machine is what we make it.

    Though, it does concern me that of all Americans using the internet (what percentage is that?), only 37% use it interactively. I think that the web 2.0 should be for the masses instead of the few, ensuring that the web will not become controlled by a few, but molded and shaped by everyone. When it comes to web 3.0, will it be controlled by a new internet elite class consisting of teenagers and technology geeks?

    There are vast differences between what mainstream journalists and “netziens” define as news, or what topics interest them. It is my opinion that just because something is interesting does not mean that it is newsworthy. While the new iphone’s release was sensational, the fact that we are in an ever changing war in Iraq is newsworthy, and it is my concern that the American public is more concerned with sensational stories than the reality of what’s going on in the world. I believe that sites such as youtube, facebook, and twitter are excellent mediums for interactive news, but the content of that “news” needs to be monitored or edited somehow just as there are watchdogs and editors for mainstream media. I believe this is what the future holds for bloggers and indy writers as what they do merges with what mainstream journalists do.

    It seems like Americans agree that blogs are not significant sources of news, but they can provide entertainment as well as differing perspectives on hot topics and issues, and I think that is why they are so popular. Citizens and bloggers are not journalists, but interesting informational-ists. When it comes to financing their writing, I would not condone paying a citizen blogger for their writing anymore than I would condone paying a citizen-suergon to perform surgery. Certain professions need rules, regulations, and parameters to be legitimate. Citizen journalists can finance their sites through advertisements and private donations. I would be more in favor of a system where citizens brought issues they were concerned to trained journalists, and then paid them to do the research and an article.

    After further reading, I see that the blogs and sites that do focus on news do indeed have “gatekeepers,” and therefore we are faced with the task of defining mainstream versus indy writing. What’s the difference? In my opinion, the main one is money.

    As for the major trends, bloggers and indy writers fit right in with the shift from news being a product to a service. These citizen journalists whose content is edited provide news to the people who seek it out specifically. The trend of making news websites non linear also acts as a service to help readers get the information they want using different mediums.

    The most interesting thing in these two pieces to me is central around the conversation we had in class about defining indy and mainstream writing. The two terms are merging, and are no longer mutually exclusive. I think for the future of journalism, we need to find a way to take the positives from each style of journalism and compile them to give the public the kind of news they want. A major negative that I see with using internet blogging and citizen journalism sites the afore mentioned internet elite. We as journalists also need to tackle the issue of how to expand this new medium to the masses.

  12. 12 Jane Kim September 3, 2008 at 4:01 am

    I think what disconcerted me most in the report was the fact that “Americans appeared to be more interested in blogs for their entertainment value than their importance as a news source.”
    As we have agreed in class, and the report also states, mainstream media has been trying to mimic the style and content of independent media. But when the content of independent media is mainly focused on entertainment than news, is it really the right direction for journalism to follow this trend and simply try to entertain people?
    Just because the biggest news in the blogosphere was the release of Apple’s IPhone, should mainstream media also make it their main news?
    User-created content is great, but I still think that the mainstream media has a bigger responsibility to give hard facts and focus on issues that people should know about, whether they want to or not.
    Personally, I don’t think blogs will ever become the main source of news. It’s a great system for exchanging information and expressing opinions, maybe bringing up issues that the mainstream media might have missed, and it will be a tool to better the future of journalism, but should never replace it.

  13. 13 Briana C September 7, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    After exploring a couple of blogs for the assignment, I see that both Kwalla and Jane Kim make legitimate claims. Blogging is extremely popular, but is not, and maybe should not, seen as a legitimate source of news by the public in general. People go to blogs for the entertainment value, therefore, I think that the problem facing journalists is how to find a way to make hard and vital news INTERESTING. One of the most impressive blogs that i visited was an austin based blog that purposed to cover and expose stories that the mainstream ignores or misses. The content was amazing, insightful, and factual (i fact checked some stuff on that website). The only thing i was disappointed about was the lack of the blog being a “starting point for a discussion as wide as the web itself–at least in theory,” as kwalla states. Most comments and replies were in the form of links to more articles that spoke about the same topic. I have done some poking around, and it’s not easy to find a blog that presents accurate, timely information in an interesting way that acts as a beginning point for more conversation in affect forging a community. If the media/journalists could figure out how to create such a place, i think it would be an excellent place to head toward when it comes to the future of journalism. In this way, I think blogs could very well become a main source of news.
    -Briana


  1. 1 For Friday: Evaluating citizen media sites « The Future of Journalism (J349T) Trackback on September 3, 2008 at 10:34 am

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