State of the Media (pro and amateur)

On Tuesday, we covered the state of the professional news media, which, to be sure, is highly disconcerting (falling revenues, failing business models, vanishing jobs—oh my!). And, yet, as we discussed, the very fluidity and uncertainty of the situation makes it all the more open for upstart journalists (like you) to make a big difference right from the start—to break in with new skill sets and mindsets.

So, it’s not all bad news out there.

Today, we look at the state of citizen media, first addressing questions such as: What is citizen media? (and citizen journalism?) How is this kind of media both like and unlike what the “pros” are doing, where do the two begin to blur online? Those are just up-front baseline questions. I’m more interested in having you explore the overall lay of the land through this piece 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.

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?

Second, and just as important, you’re going to be reading pages 1-40 from Charlie Beckett’s SuperMedia book. With this one, try to ask yourself: How did the media “get here,” to this current state of flux? and what kind of journalism could (and should) emerge in the future?

(p.s. I’m trying out this WordPress tool called Zemanta, which allows you to autmotically include related blog posts based on keywords in your blog … so, below, I thought I’d toss in a few posts for fun.)

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17 Responses to “State of the Media (pro and amateur)”

  1. 1 Scott Richert February 5, 2009 at 9:38 am

    I enjoyed these readings much more that the ones from last week. There wasn’t so much doom and gloom. One of the things that struck me the most about this reading was that only about 30% of people consider blogs important news sources, and that most people only visit them for their entertainment value. I feel that this is utterly counter intuitive to what journalism students are being taught right now. The article made no mention of this statistic changing. So why then do 95% of newspapers have blogs. DO these blogs get read and taken seriously? Or are they just more entertainment for the masses. I really am not sure.

    I was also very intrigued to see a journalistic organization speaking so highly of Wikipedia. Over the past several years (since Wikipedia had been brought to my attention) I have always heard that Wikipedia is the worst possible source to find reliable information. Still, My friends and I use it almost everyday to settle random obscure debates that no one but Wikipedia will be able to help with. I am glad to see that people in the academic and professional world are beginning to accept and even embrace Wikipedia as a future source of information and even news gathering. That is not to say that there are not still problems with a fully open easily editable encyclopedia, but those kinks could be worked out really soon.

  2. 2 meerarajagopalan February 5, 2009 at 9:53 am

    I agree with Scott. I think the stuff about Wikipedia is very true and interesting. I was surprised to hear about the 700,000+ visits that the Virginia Tech shooting pages received just in that one day. It was a great way for people to communicate what was going on, without really having to communicate. They were just able to type on their computers, explaining what they did.

    I really like citizen journalism, because it allows readers to write about what they feel and let people comment. I agree that before there was not enough of this, that journalism was just one sided.

    In the introduction of the book, the thing that i agreed with were the “truths.” News really is everywhere. There is a squirrel that hides in the trash can by my building, I wonder what his story is. I know I take advantage of the ways I can communicate with people. I send a text to a friend and get a response almost instantly. The same is true for Instant Messenger (yes the title says it all) but it’s really nice to be able to talk to someone like that.

    I also found it interesting that Second Life was brought up. I had heard about it a few years ago, but never really knew about it until now. It is a very cool concept, but sadly keeps people behind their computers, instead of being behind the news, following it in person.

    Sometimes it feels like we are going in the right direction with learning journalism, but I feel sooner or later, everything will be obsolete, and there will be a whole new skills set we’ll need.

  3. 3 Robert Rich February 5, 2009 at 9:57 am

    To add to what Scott said about blogs, I personally think that they are the wave of the future. We already know that they’re a popular medium and everyone and their mother seems to have one, but the blog is the thing that’s going to save journalism. Just like with everything, though, you have to make it profitable.

    All the news organizations are looking into blogs, and they’re finding a way to localize their news even more for readers. It’s a format that allows immediate, conversational posting of important information that doesn’t alienate the reader with the typical inverted pyramid and allows them to feel a little bit closer to the journalists, who seem just a bit more human. Plus, with the interactivity features of blogs, they can be fun rather than just straight news. Instead of relegating entertainment news to the back section of the paper, a blog can let that newest Nickelback video get posted right up there with the info about the apartment fire in West Campus. By the way, that was a joke, I hate Nickelback.

    Once again, it all comes down to funding. Endowments should not be considered, because that just gives the fund-provider a reason to control content. Online ads work, but they don’t bring in enough revenue. It’s going to come back down to a subscription or pay-as-you-read model. You either buy a year’s subscription to the blog or you pay for each article you want to read. Sure, most things on the Internet are free, but if you put up enough great content, people will pay for it. Now, let’s just figure out what defines “great content” and we’ll be good to go.

  4. 4 samanthadeavin February 5, 2009 at 10:22 am

    Like Scott, I was also very interested to read that Americans are more interseted in blogs for entertainment value as opposed to their importance as news sources. My initial reaction was also “Huh? Does that make what we are learning completely redundant?”. But then I started to think about how quickly all the figures mentioned in this article had changed between 2005/2006/2007, and am sure that if all figures were taken again today, we would find that blogs were increasingly being viewed as a news source. Like what Robert said, the are the way of the future – if, of course, someone can figure out the business model to support them and citizen journalism.

    I thought that what the article said about video and social networking sites was really interesting, in that “these citizen-based webistes began largely as places to post compelling material, much of it from the mainstream media with added content from users”. It made me think about how much social networking sites have evolved – and I’m not sure if it is for the better. If networking sites were originally designed to be places for ‘compelling material’, where do facebook status’ such as “Lucy is having a cup of tea” and other random twitter comments fit in? Has it gone too far/become too self indulgent, and impacted the ability of citizen journalism and blogs to be taken seriously? Perhaps this has something to do with one of the trends predicted in the reading for Tuesday – “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.”

    As a side note, when reading about all the non profit groups and funds for citizen journalism, I thought this is what we as students need to take advantage of.

  5. 5 Michele Pierini February 5, 2009 at 11:09 am

    One thing about the internet and news value vs. entertainment is that you may get on the internet to look for news but end up finding something more interesting that is labeled as entertainment. Unlike printed publications, internet media are less of a destination and more of an information filter. They pass on what they know but also link the reader to other sources of information, sort of tailoring it to what they think their reader should find important.

    I never really thought about how citizen journalists need money to fund their news enterprises. Advertising and money concerns apply to diverse journalistic outlets. I think mainstream news sites are more successful with audience interactivity because most of them already started with a readership base. Their audience followed them from print to the web and already have an invested interest in the publication.

    Gone are the days of specialization. Everybody needs to know how to do everything. I think that I’ll end up being mediocre at everything, because it’s hard to learn multiple trades at all once. I feel like it would suck to not have specialists anymore like some trade secrets will be lost forever or something.

  6. 6 Kristin February 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Wow. The thing that shocked me most was the low, low number of people who are “regular blog readers” (15% on a regular basis and 5% once a day). We hear so much talk on blogs, not just in this class but everywhere, but, honestly, who is really reading them? I guess it is like what Robert said, that blogs are a “wave of the future,” and maybe most people just haven’t caught on yet. In one of my other journalism classes we recently issued a survey about activity online and more than 75% of the people questioned said that they rarely to NEVER left comments or “interacted” online. This seems like a real problem to me. I think that this idea of citizen journalism and networked journalism is excellent, but we have to get the people involved and motivated to participate. I really liked what Beckett said about networked journalism possibly being hope for places like Africa. This new journalism could be just what they need. But again, people all around the world need to step up and be more involved if this is really the way journalism is headed.

    I also think that what Beckett pointed out about “broader social changes” and the “general shift in the way that people live their lives as individuals and communities” is so important and often forgotten. People just naturally think journalism is changing because of all these new technology gadgets and developments, but it also has to do with these “social changes” that have happened over the past 30 years. And the changes aren’t stopping now. We are going to continue to see changes, and probably more often than in the past. This means journalists really need to be on their toes. Honestly, I probably would not even have considered this had it not been for Beckett pointing it out. If that makes sense. Also, to go along with this is his point about audience fragmentation. There really isn’t a general audience anymore. People take in and digest news in all different sorts of ways, or create their own news. Top news stories on the mainstream sites are often completely different from top stories on Digg and To me, this really says a lot.

    And, of course, funding and money is always a key problem. I just think it is going to be really hard to charge for blogs or content online. And I really don’t think ads online work that well either. I find myself just clicking out of them or not paying any attention to them.

  7. 7 Amy Neyhard February 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    I agree with Kristin about the question of who is really reading blogs. For me, personally, I don’t understand the whole idea of them and cannot get into reading them. I would rather spend my time reading the news on a news station web site. Because it is there that I know that I am getting the truth and an unbiased one at that. Maybe one of these days I will get into reading blogs.

    I’m not too sure if I like citizen media. I have been looking at it as it taking over professional journalism. People just one day deciding that they want to become a journalist and post a blog without any prior experience and without going to school. It seems unfair to think that someone is out there doing this without any training on how to do it right. Sorry, the reading sparked a little bit of a nerve once I thought about it.

    I don’t really see blogs as being a news source right now. I never knew about the Virginia Tech shooting on Wikipedia as a way to get the word out. I can see that maybe in the future it being a news source but we’ll see.

    I never knew that citizen journalist sites were selling ads. What advertisers are paying for this? I have to agree with the statement that news sites are more welcoming than blogs. News sites are easier to get around and are open to reader comments, allowing interactions with readers.

  8. 8 Lauren Oakley February 5, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    I also really enjoyed the readings this week much more than those assigned last week. At the very beginning, Beckett introduces the threat that citizen journalism carries against professional journalism, comparing it to amateur pornography and the professional pornography industry, which made me laugh. If anyone can be a journalist, then how do we keep our jobs as professional journalists? The Solution: applying the new model of Network Journalism, which embraces the collaborative nature that journalism contains today, amateurs and professionals working together to get the story and linking to each others work.

    The focus of journalism in the future will be more on the product and less on the process. People aren’t concerned today on who wrote the story and if they are an amateur or a professional; people want their news and they want it now regardless. What we as journalists must do is embrace this changing phenomenon is work with citizen journalist via blogs and what not, in delivering the news. It is our journalistic responsibility.

    On a side note, I think that blogs are a great way to obtain your daily news because rather than reading an objective story on a particular event in your daily newspaper, you can receive opinionated angles in anything, giving the reader more leeway to form their own personal viewpoints rather than just giving them the news cut and dry with no sugar and spice. (haha)

    Basically if you don’t change you are going to be left behind with all the rapid new media changes happening in journalism today. Your best bet is to obtain as many skills as possible to make yourself more marketable for a job.

    P.S. I think Second Life is really creepy and I hope it’s not going to be a must-have for journalists in the future. Ugh.

  9. 9 Rachel February 5, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    Like Scott and Samantha above, I was surprised to find that people do not think blogs are the place to find news according to the State of the News Media piece. Of course that could all change in the next few years as more people become more and more internet savvy and turn to the web as their primary source of news. I also thought the study about citizen journalism sites was especially interesting in the fact that they were not so different than traditional media sites. They have gatekeepers who control the content and most did not allow users to post anything other than comments. I like the idea of citizen journalism, but I’m not sure it can be truly successful without citizen participation. Maybe having a forum to post story ideas for a journalist to cover and a way to fund the story like the model will be the way to go. Or even if local news sites set up forums for the community to discuss what they think are the important stories might work. I also wonder how a networking site such as Facebook might work in a news site; if it would be successful to have people set up profiles and upload photos and videos and be able to talk directly to one another and the journalists. I don’t know if that would even be feasible or how it would actually work, but just something I was thinking about.

    I also thought the Gawker article “Newspapers: Should the New York Times charge for its Website” had some interesting ideas. One of the solutions,the pay as you go model, seemed to reinforce the idea of an iTunes set up, paying for each story individually. Again, I don’t know if something like that could actually be put in place, but it’s an interesting idea. I agreed with the posting though about all the news organizations getting together to decide what to do. I think any business model that the media comes up with should be put in place across the board. If the New York Times starts charging for online content, I can always go to the USA Today or CNN or MSNBC or any other online newspaper. If they all enact some sort of subscription service, then I would have to subscribe to one of them. I also think Seth’s idea of readers paying for news sites of cities of which they are not residents might work. When I lived in Amarillo a few years ago, I still received the Statesman headlines in my email, so I kept up what was going on in Austin. The Statesman could’ve been making money from people like me.

  10. 10 Sarah Lacy February 5, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    One thing that really threw me off in the PEJ article was how they define citizen journalism and citizen-based news sites. What criteria are they using to compare “normal” journalism to citizen-based journalism? They describe the citizen-based sites as creating their own content and using advertising. They also say that some were started with budgets of up to $1000 dollars. To me that sounds a little more organized than what I picture when I think of citizen journalism. I always imagine a person sitting at home, starting a website or blog for next to nothing, and posting it online just to make a statement. Advertising, budgets, and lots of work seem to constitute journalism in my opinion. I would really like to see different examples of what is defined as citizen-based journalism. There are no examples given in the article.

    It was also interesting to learn that many of the user created sites are more restrictive when posting information from others. Does this decrease their readership because it does not follow the ethics of the interactive web 2.0? I think that it all comes down to the information they are providing to the reader. If the information is useful and sought after, then the site will be successful. And a citizen close to the story (and especially those genuinely interested in the topic) can better predict what others will want to read.

    In SuperMedia, the idea of networked journalism seems very progressive to me. The theory seems like a great step forward in the right direction in connecting the web and journalism. The entire internet is a network that connects people. This key element should be what the media focuses on. They should not just work on connecting to readers over the web, but also with other news organizations, websites, and companies. It is important to think about how our entire culture is changing, not just the technology. The entire way journalism is being done is shifting, not just the way it is published.

  11. 11 stephenkeller February 5, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I agree with Scott, blogs present more of a form of entertainment rather than meaningful news. I think many bloggers are highly opinionated people who think they know what they’re talking about, but don’t.

    In response to Rob, I think putting a music video alongside a report from the West Campus fire is insensitive. Bloggers often don’t understand the situation. I was at all three fires this week, carrying either a video camera or a notebook. Where were they?

    I bust my ass to get answers for my readers. I carry my press badge/credentials with pride. My reporting only has two loyalties: the truth and the people. Where do bloggers’ loyalties rest?

    Have bloggers ever spoke with a person after they lost their home or a parent after losing a son? Have they ever grilled a public official? Have they ever interviewed a US Senator or the President? I have.

  12. 12 ldechant February 5, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I do not believe blogs are appropriate venues for reporting the news. I feel they go against what we as aspiring journalists are taught, which is to report a fair and balanced story to our readers/viewers. Blogs provide an excellent forum for posting what one believes and feels, but not the news. I found it baffling that the iPhone received more play in the news than did the War in Iraq.

    Also, I feel this excerpt from The State of Journalism says it all, “Other research found that Americans appeared to be more interested in blogs for their entertainment value than their importance as a news source.” This is precisely so. I read primarily for entertainment value, but not for major news. This I leave up to nytimes. com and

    I agree with Stephen. As someone who has written for the Texan and other publications, it is difficult to speak with people who have gone through tragic events or speaking to public officials who don’t want to give you their time. Citizen Journalists and bloggers tend to just interject their opinions, and that is not what true journalism is about.

  13. 13 oliviafong February 5, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    There were a ton of numbers and statistics in the first piece, but one of the ones that I thought was most interesting was that even the though only roughly a third of Americans engage in Web 2.0, two thirds of teenagers created some kind of online content. As this generation and the one after us are the future, as some of you have said, I think that this number will be even higher within the next couple of years.

    Another interesting stat about Wikipedia- even though everyone knows that it’s not a legitimate source (i.e., you can’t really use it as a reference for an academic paper) college grads/people banking more than $75,000 go to it more than any other group.

    Blogs- Even though blogs are doubling every 230 days, writing in them doesn’t seem to be as popular with people my age now (they are so, like, 7th grade) as networking sites like Facebook and Twitter are, and I think it’s because it seems like they are far more efficient way to communicate. Instead of telling you how crazy the party was in 300 words, I can post a picture or video, and instead of waiting till the end of the day to blog about my frustration about XYZ, I can let you know in 140 characters.

  14. 14 Justine February 5, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    At first I thought blogs were unprofessional and just about people ranting about their own interests. Since this class (and reading all the hundreds of blog posts) I realized that professional journalists and citizens are serious about blogs and blog content.

    I believe user-created content is still a forward motion for the new era of journalism. Some limitations must be set (like on wiki) because “citizens” tend to take a good thing and run it into the ground with lies and make believe. User-created content, comments, feedback, interconnectivity… etc is very important to the future of journalism, but it can’t be without any guidelines.

    “Rather than rejecting the “gatekeeper” role of traditional journalism, for now citizen journalists and bloggers appear to be recreating it in other places.”

    In the future, I suspect there will be more opportunities for citizens to create their own news forums and information, but the ones that garner the most support and attention will be those that have backed up sources and proof.

    There has to be balance between print and multimedia journalism, between citizen journalists and professionals. I think it would be in the best interest of a citizen journalist (who wants to be taken as serious as the commercial media) to go through some journalism education and training, like at the Center for Citizen Media that PEJ talks about.

  15. 15 Jill February 5, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    First I would like to say that I appreciated Beckett’s use of the cultural and human aspect to the web. After all, as journalists we need to paying attention to what PEOPLE to. That way we can keep ourselves relevant and maybe even try to predict where web usage is going. I thought it was important that he mentions the need for good journalism to make informed (good) decisions. I think the echoes Bill Keller’s address. However it is not just enough to know that good journalists (us) will be needed. New business models must come into play now….and from Beckett’s book maybe we can borrow from Asia. He outlines how newspaper sales are up there. Suprising in an area of the world that is usually at the forefront of technology. I wonder if it new business models or just a different culture. Combination of both…?

    One thing I disagreed with Beckett on is his assessment of what journalism does. On page 29 he writes: “The very act of journalism is to debase or dilute reality.” Questionable at best. I mean, isn’t that what Twitter and live-blogging are all about? To engage the consumer and get them as close to the reality of the event as possible. Granted, not all people who live blog and Twitter are participating in journalism, however some are.

    In the state of the news media report I was interested in the Pew’s study of journalist. To sum it up, it basically talks about how the financial woes of the industry are directly effecting the quality of the work: everything is about the bottom line. Although journalist have always been in a time crunch, I wonder how the pressure to get the story in has increased since the industry’s fall and how that effects the quality of the work. Is there a way to quantify that? Not sure, but this might account for the shift towards citizen media/journalism. There isn’t really any deadline because it lies outside of the corporations and is for niche audiences. I think that is one of the factors that has lead to increased trust in the blogsphere as well as other types of citizen media.

  16. 16 Christina G February 5, 2009 at 10:32 pm

    First of, I have to say again that reading everyone’s comments is awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever had a class before where I got to read a bit from everyone, and I think it’s great.
    Secondly, I’m interested to learn how shocked everyone else is about the numbers saying people don’t hit blogs up much. After class today I was also interested to learn that Austinist and Gothamist, Chicagoist, and even SFist qualify as blogs. I consider these sites news oriented. And when I say news here I mean something very broad and including cheeky commentary on entertainment, etc. Maybe people do read blogs but don’t know they’re reading them. If asked, I wouldn’t have characterized Gothamist, which I dig, as a blog.
    Regarding Amy’s comment, I don’t think we need to feel threatened by citizen journalism. There is room for everyone’s imput, and as annoying as incorrect information may be, I tend to imagine that that information will all be sifted out and the truth will come to light, so no need for anxiety. I believe that in Brazil you do need a license to practice journalism but I don’t think that’s a good idea. These are stories. The basic truth values are not hard to comprehend. Maybe someone will get up there and tell their stories with a huge slant and lie to us, but we’ll say “President Bush, shut up.” Do you get my point? We’re being lied to all the time. But how can we restrict free speech? Free speech is for the people you disagree with and dislike, not the ones you trust and love. And allowing people to be creative, that’s just fundamental. We should all be more creative. This is not at all to say that Amy’s thoughts aren’t valid, because I respect the free flow of ideas we’ve got going here, but feeling like citizen journalism might impinge on the rights of “professional” journalism, that’s like having Vogue magazine be afraid of the little diy mags produced in local communities. It’s all about creative contribution. I think anything that allows and encourages that is fundamentally GREAT.
    That being said, what I found most interesting about our online reading was the idea that citizen journalism, or any sort of creative, journalistic input from citizens, is turning out to be very “gatekeeper” in mentality, where you’d expect it to be more open, since it exists because of a new open forum. The oppressed become the oppressors. Very interesting. We’re saying people aren’t allowing a lot of feed back? What about the link? If we have a lot of links, we’re good. Maybe. Well, that was definitely what I found most interesting.

  17. 17 Simrat Sharma February 5, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    I have to agree with most of the above comments in saying that the SuperMedia reading was very insightful and interesting. The cultural revolution surrounding the media debate today is focused pretty well in the reading. Commentary and participation is as much a part of news consumption today as is passively receiving the latest story of the wire. If the content and consumption has changed so drastically, revenue generation will have to adapt.

    The problem with free online content by news sites is that people have now come to expect it. If they plan to now charge a fee, they will have to wean people into it, maybe with the op-eds paid first, followed by specific sections later. “Important” stories, as we discussed in class, could still be offered for free. A die-hard sports fan or a fashion junkie could be persuaded to pay for the niche content but not necessarily for the whole paper. Yet, the public mindset seems hardly prepared for it at this point.

    It was interesting to know that minorities are increasingly prefer to go online to get their news. Similarly, niche marketing on the basis of interest and quality content could still sell. The lack of infrastructure to support this model is the biggest obstacle.

    As much as I like the fluidity of the web, I found myself agreeing with Habermas – with all the inaccuracy and error rampant in citizen journalism, the ability of seasoned journalists to “focus” on intellectual reporting has been lost. Through the haze of entertainment and gossip, the need for serious news may be diminishing. Then again, I agree when Beckett says, “Why should the internet not reflect humanity in all its banality as well as its glory?”

    I guess you take the good with the bad and find a way to deal with it aka make money in new and exciting ways as well as preserve quality journalism.

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