Evaluating citizen media sites

Building off where we left off in class today, I’d like you to read this chapter on community journalism from the latest (indeed, very recent) State of the News Media report. Try to grasp the key takeaways about citizen media: what’s working, what’s not, etc. Then visit this map of citizen media sites and identify a few of interest to you. Take a spin through their sites and examine them in light of what you just read from the State of the News Media findings.

In the comment section below, give us a brief analysis of these sites around the following kinds of questions:

  • What does this citizen media site cover, and in what ways? What’s the gist of this site?
  • To what extent is this site “open” to user contributions and control? How easy would it be not only to upload your own material but edit and manipulate existing content? Can you tell how the site manages these issues?
  • Do you have a sense for the sustainability of this site? (e.g., how it is being supported financially, now and in the future?)

Jot down your impressions (along with a link to the site you discuss) in the comments section below, for Thursday.

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12 Responses to “Evaluating citizen media sites”


  1. 1 Holly MacRossin March 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    site: http://nems360.com/
    This citizen media site covers the area of Northeast Mississippi. It has news, sports, business and weather links all related to the area. The way in which these topics are presented are very similar to a professional news site. There is a content bar listed on the side and when you click on one of these headings you will find a recently updated report on whatever it may be. This site also covers AP wire stories, which on this day takes up a larger, top portion of the site. There are also directories, blogs and classifieds. From what I can tell, the gist of the site is to provide quick local news and helpful information for community members as well as more national stories that may be of interest.
    Looking over this site, I honestly don’t see anywhere that open user content can be uploaded or edited. It is a “for-profit” site with a paid staff. This seemed a little strange to me but I guess I had the wrong idea of citizen journalism in my head. Then I saw blogs and thought maybe that’s where community members can share input, but all the blogs seem professionally constructed. There is however, an option for users to create their own profiles and RSS feeds to further craft this site to their own needs. Other than this, it isn’t oh-so-obvious to me how this site handles user content that comes from outside sources. And I don’t see any options to edit content anywhere.
    Like I said, this site is “for-profit” and has paid staff. By looking over this site, I can only assume a lot of their income comes from advertisements. I counted ten advertisements on their home page. The rest of the income could come from grants I suppose? They aren’t charging people to use the site either, so advertising and grants would be my guess for how they are working now. In the future I see a similar trend. Although, what do sites like this do when their grants and funds run out? I’m not sure. I can tell just by looking through this though that advertisements aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

    Site: http://www.sanjoseinside.com/
    This citizen media site is a little different than the Mississippi one because its content mainly focuses on politics and culture in the San Jose and Silicon Valley area. It does not resemble a professional news site like the other one because it doesn’t have things like weather and AP Wire stories. The way in which the content on this site is presented is through blogs. There are contributing columnists who regularly update and produce content for the users to consume. The gist of this site is for these columnists to suggest something relating to politics and culture for discussion and it goes from there.
    This site is also different in that it encourages users to submit content. It’s easy to contribute within the limitations that you stay on topic. This site does not let users alter all content however, only their own. For example, they can’t go in and delete or edit what a contributing staff member has to say.
    Much like the first citizen media site, this one is covered in ads but surprisingly only four were on their home page. I’m not sure how you determine where these sites get their revenue (does anyone know?). If it is supposed to be obvious, then I must be missing something. I can only assume, advertisements and grants also support this site and will continue to do so in the future. At least until (and if) this site ever pairs with bigger, more professional news sites in the area and can get financial support from them.

  2. 2 Donnie Hogan March 24, 2010 at 8:48 am

    site 1: http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/

    I chose to explore the Las Vegas site because it seems like a city with so much going on, that it would be nearly impossible for local professional media to cover everything. From what I saw, the site does a good job of updating people on events that definitely wouldn’t be covered by mainstream media (ex. free ice cream cone special at Ben & Jerry’s, where the best poker rooms are, where celebrities will be making appearances, etc). I couldn’t find an about us, contact page or way to upload your own posts which make me believe the site is not very open. I can understand this however in a city like Vegas because if you allow anyone to comment, the site would quickly become flooded with promotions from 1,000’s of casino PR personnel. I also didn’t see any comments on the posts. Even though the site is updated daily, I guess its sustainability will continue as long as they, whoever THEY are, continue to post.

    site 2: http://www.dakotabeacon.com/

    After exploring the Vegas site, I decided to chose the other extreme and look at a site in North Dakota. Front and center in their menu bar are links to contact, register, subscribe and log in to post about what’s going on in the community. Most of the posts are politically related, especially with the health care bill fresh on everyone’s mind. It doesn’t take very long to realize that most of the posts are from a conservative angle and just incase you were unsure, the political cartoons hammer home the message. There some comments, but I wouldn’t say enough to describe the site as an active conversation community. However, just because people don’t comment doesn’t mean they aren’t reading. I’ve never been to North Dakota, but I image there aren’t many organizations competing with the traditional media so I would guess the site’s sustainability is pretty strong.

    Quick note from design/layout perspective. You can quickly tell which site is from Vegas and which one is from North Dakota even without titles or banners.

  3. 3 Will Anderson March 24, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    http://austinist.com/
    Didn’t even realize until I saw Donnie and Holly’s posts that we could do stuff outside of Texas– d’oh. Anyways, Austinist was a pretty cool aggregator compiled by some regular Austinites. It has some “notable” news, but focuses mostly on food/culture/arts, and unfortunately has little original content (a common problem among citizen journalism sites, as this year’s State of the News Media tells us). It’s supported by banner and sidebar ads, but it also has a “Contribute” button, so I’m assuming it’s a for-profit start-up with some elements of a community-supported entity. I set up an account on the site, but I was able to “Like” and “Share” posts without an account, so… I’m not really sure what having one entitles me to?? Seems all content is top-down produced, with little/no audience contribution aside from comments.

    As a side note, I noticed “Austinist” is actually a chain Web site with affiliates also set up in Boston, London, San Francisco, Shanghai, etc… Which makes me wonder why the decided to add an Austin site (perhaps it’s more of a ‘franchise’-esque model? Hmm…). I found out that the New York site and London sites are updated 15+ times per day, while the sites for Austin, Philadelphia and Boston are updated like 5-10 times per day, so that’s probably just a correlation of city size and the number of people on staff.

  4. 4 Katie Myung March 24, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    site 1: http://www.bloghouston.net/

    This citizen media site is a frequently updated weblog that focuses on Houston politics, media, and life. Bloggers of this site provide regular commentary on Houston politics and current events, local media, and thoughts on Houston’s cultural and entertainment options. There are five bloggers for this site. They are organized fairy well; they have the editor, the copy editor, contributing editors,and contributors. They require to register to comment and that leads to polite conversation about the topics. Some articles have some comments but others have no comments on that. I think bloggers are active but readers are not enough to say active. This weblog is provided free to readers. However, they would like to receive donation. I cannot guess the site’s sustainability.

    site 2: http://coconutgrovegrapevine.blogspot.com/

    Houston blog covers a pretty big region. After I looked at it, I decided to explore small town media site and pick small town’s blog. It’s a community blog and covers Coconut Grove, Florida, a small village in the center of the City of Miami. There are no professional journalists and paid staffs. Every post is written by “GRAPEVINE” but I think there must be an editor for this site. I checked Facebook fan page of Coconut Grove Grapevine and there is photo of the guy on its profile picture. I have never been there and I do not know Coconut Grove is the one of the tourist attraction. But this site provides a full monthly calendar of events in the Coconut Grove and information of local restaurants. This site is pretty active because there are average six posts everyday, and the site says they have 80,000 to 90,000 readers per month. There are also ad rate section on this site and many advertisings are already placed. So I would guess the site’s sustainability is pretty strong.

  5. 5 Amber Genuske March 24, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    http://austinist.com/

    Austinist.com covers a variety of local and cultural news through contributors and permanent staffers. The articles vary from briefs on government to interviews with musicians. The gist of the site is providing local news to Austinites. I signed up for an account and think that I am able to write stories and email them to the specific section that are then filtered. I can comment, share and like stories without an account though. Financially, they have advertisements on the site and also receive sponsorship from various sources.

    http://neighborsgoblog.dallasnews.com/

    This is one of the many community blogging sites of The Dallas Morning News, though it covers all of Tarrant County. It seems like every other post is about Duncanville’s Tim Urban from American Idol. Though there are some local news and entertainment stories. With registration there is the option to post stories, photos, videos, or create a blog that will be filtered by the editors. Otherwise, you can comment and share posts. The site itself is cluttered with poorly places ads and links, though because it is connected with the Dallas Morning News, it has some lasting power.

  6. 6 Jordyn Davenport March 24, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    1. http://www.bakotopia.com/home
    I first chose one of the sites in California because they have so many. I selected this one because it’s designed specifically for use by young people, or at least the young-at-heart as they put it in their about us page, who live in Bakersfield California. The site seems a bit messy at first glance. Basically everyone develops a profile and they post blogs, stories, picture, events, etc through that profile. A ton of the people have blogs and all of the featured ones contain some kind of original reporting but their topics are very widely varied between music, politics, and event coverage. In general they all deal with the youth culture in that city though. It seems pretty easy to post, you just have to create a profile first, which I’m guessing might deter some people since that might be a bit time consuming. But once you have a profile you can post blogs, music, classifieds and comments and everything can be anonymous if you choose. It doesn’t say anywhere how this site is funded but there is a featured link at the bottom to BakersfieldVoice so I think they are probably affiliated with them because Bakotopia has banner ads that I’m assuming they have through a deal with Bakersfield Voice. I tried visiting Bakersfield Voice’s website but you have to log in to read anything. Based on the chaos of the site I’m not sure if it will remain viable because I don’t know if anyone would want to invest in it, but the people who belong to it seem pretty active and interested.

    2. http://austin.metblogs.com/
    For my second site I selected Austin’s MetBlog site because we live here of course. This network of sites started in LA in 2003 to allow a few bloggers to get together to provide local news by local people, it’s since expanded to a ton of different cities throughout the world. From what I gather, there are three main contributors on the Austin site and they write the articles, which seem to focus a lot on reviews of restaurants and music shows, but that could be because most of the articles on the front page were about SXSW. I don’t think that anyone else can post besides those three guys but other people can comment, although I believe you might have to register first. Since there is a link at the bottom saying, want to buy an ad I’m guessing they are supported in part by ad revenue, which will probably continue to prove sustainable since they’re part of a larger chain of sites.

  7. 7 Kurt Mitschke March 24, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    http://www.seaside-sun.com/

    Seaside-Sun.com claims to be “the online town square for residents, visitors and fans of Seaside, Oregon.” It is a newspaper community blog that for the most part aggregates news from a local newspaper, The Daily Astorian, and is updated daily. Other stories, while very few, were included from the AP and online citizen contributors. The site is set up for citizens to very easily share photos and stories, but there doesn’t seem to be any options as far as editing the content once it is up. The site must manage these entries, as they have a waiver below the submission form that says the posts can take anywhere from a few to 48 hours to appear on the site. It does appear though that the site does allow users to set up a blog and manage it for themselves, though I am not sure what requirements have to be met in order to have this ability. The site is very cluttered and not very aesthetically appealing, and judging from the looks of the site, it appears that they rely heavily on advertising, because the entire right side of the page is littered with adds.

    http://atlanta.metblogs.com/

    The focus of this site, as a part of the larger picture of metroblogging, is basically locally focused news that covers all aspects of the city for its readers. There are about 20 authors for this site, and for the most part the writing style seems very informal (one author did not even use a single capital letter in his entire post). It is definitely more of a blogging style than journalistic writing. As far as I can tell, it is not a place for those that are not authors to share stuff. However, one of the newest authors on the blog mentioned something in her post that leads me to believe that the opportunity to become an author is there if you are a frequent contributor through your commenting. The overall view of the site is very nice, clean and basic. Since it is just one part of Metblogs, I feel that its chances of staying around are much better than if it was independent. Also, there are ad spaces for sale on the site, and the majority is not filled with ads from anyone. Not sure if this is the case for other Metblogs, but that doesn’t really seem too promising if they rely on that for revenue.

  8. 8 Ryan Murphy March 25, 2010 at 1:26 am

    All right, my turn.

    http://www.erieblogs.com/

    Erie Blogs serves (or was originally meant to serve) as a blog repository for the town of Erie, Pennsylvania and the surrounding areas. Based on reading their “about us” section and a little nosing around of my own, I found Erie Blogs to be one of those cases where people probably do not hang around all that often when they visit (many of the posts just point to someone else talking about a subject), but I think it has done a fantastic job of being the “hub.” They provide a link at the top to a page full of links to local businesses’ Twitter pages, and there is an impressive blog roll in the right sidebar that includes more than just other Erie based blogs, but also links to other important Erie-concerned websites, such as the local school district website and the mainstream (CBS, NBC, etc.) news sites.

    In terms of citizen involvement, things look pretty slim. But, again, I believe this site puts much more focus on being like a “bookcase.” People visit Erie Blogs and narrow down to what they want (or read one of the weekly news overviews).

    In terms of sustainability, they are running a Google AdSense horizontal ad at the top, and have sometimes awkward block ad (pulled up some strange dating ads) to the right of the story rotator. They also have one that seems to be from Amazon, and a small block ad for a local bank. I imagine that with enough traffic, they do well enough to break even.

    http://www.redbankgreen.com/

    RedBankGreen is a citizen ran news site based in Red Bank, New Jersey. It serves as a online-only presenter of features on life in Red Bank and the surrounding towns/areas. In their About Me, the creators (a husband/wife team) claim that they want RedBankGreen to “bring journalistic standards, luscious visuals and fresh—but not gratuitously cynical—perspective to local coverage.” Although right now it looks like only one person is consistently updating the site (Dustin Racioppi), it is obvious that they do some serious leg work to secure their stories/posts, many of them with their own media and conducted interviews. In other words, they are very serious about pulling off “citizen journalism,” and I think they are succeeding to a point. What I also was impressed with was their constantly commenting fan base; it is obvious that their quite a few readers of their site who return often to see what is new (one recent post had 50+!).

    In terms of community involvement, it seems the only active participation available is through commenting, but it also looks like the site provides a running events calendar in addition to a list of upcoming civic meetings (school board, city council, etc.). However, I was unable to find a place to add things to said events calendar, so they may be a little bit more hands on with that aspect of their site.

    Concerning ads and sustainability, they have quite a few ads running down the right side of the site, many (perhaps all?) of them from local businesses, so in terms of being hyperlocal in their presentation of relevant ads they are doing a decent job. What I really appreciate is the fact that even though there are a lot of ads, none of them ever really get in your way (one of my serious pet peeves). If I was from here, this is a site I probably would not mind returning to for relevant local news.

    Oh, and one more thing. Those of you using Austinist, it actually is an Austin version of the original site Gothamist (gothamist.com). Will, you are correct in the fact that the Austin based one is probably not one of the prioritized ones. In my experience with the site (as in, following it with RSS), they never really say anything of value that is not better explained by another blogger/media site here in Austin. They just don’t update enough, and the Austin blog scene is unique in the way that there are a ton of people out there who outdo Austinist through specialization. I like to think of it as one of those media outlets that does not get the concept of being local and what it means to connect with the community.

    And they might be about to be bought out by Cablevision (via Rainbow Media), which is sort of ironic, because the *ist network really tries to pitch it self as against those sorts of big business.

    http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/22/cablevision-unit-is-said-to-be-interested-in-acquiring-gothamist/

  9. 9 Sean Beherec March 25, 2010 at 1:28 am

    http://bransonmissouri.missourinetizen.com/

    This site covers the news happening in Branson, Missouri. The content is put on the site by what appears to be just one writer, and most of the news covers politics in the area or comments made by local politicians. There is no way for readers to contribute content, unless by commenting on a post, so the site is very closed to contributions. It looks like the site isn’t very financially sustainable. It has a few ads, but it looks like it’s also the arm of the larger “Missouri Netizen” site. My guess is the majority of the funding must be coming from that.

    http://denver.yourhub.com/GreenwoodVillage

    This site is a lot different than the Branson site, despite serving the same purpose in its area. The news and goings-on in the area are reported by people in the community. Most of the posts are fluff pieces about different things happening in the area and the occasional police blotter post, but it seems like it’s much more open for content. Anyone with a user name can post or leave comments. The site looks like it’s supported by ads, but is also part of a larger company, with ties to the The Denver Post. Overall I think it’s much more user-friendly and accessible.

  10. 10 Hannah March 25, 2010 at 7:26 am

    http://www.dakotabeacon.com/
    I picked North Dakota because it seemed really random. 🙂 It’s a journal of politics, science, economics and culture, but mostly politics. It has its own unpaid team of writers, but it also collects stories from the Web and posts the most relevant in a column on the right side. On the left side, it has a column listing all the most recent comments. I think in this sense, it opens itself up and keeps itself from being completely self-centered. It goes broad with the stories from other places and goes narrow with people’s comments. There’s not much interaction beyond that. The format is very simple. I think you would have to be a part of a very small niche to appreciate this, because it has information you can find pretty much anywhere. You would have to be using that site for the reason of interacting with other people directly on that site through comments, it seems.

    http://dakotatoday.typepad.com/
    I also picked South Dakota, because I wanted to compare the two. This site is a little more complicated (and a little more junky), but far more interactive. It has plenty of options for blogs, maps, etc. It’s incredibly informal, and like I said, the Web site is very cluttered. It covers many random topics. The North Dakota site seemed to look more professional and have more credible news.

  11. 11 Victoria Garcia March 25, 2010 at 10:14 am

    http://www.magnoliareport.com/

    The Magnolia Report calls itself “The Scoop for Mississippi Politics,” and on its homepage has nothing but updates on politics. It’s extremely thorough, although slightly cluttered and difficult to read through. There are not really pictures to go along with any of the blurbs immediately, which is not necessary I suppose, but definitely makes the site less appealing. It is good for politics junkies in the area and has mass amounts of articles/blog posts for these people. I think it’s a great example of citizen journalism because of its thoroughness and its ability to identify with a very specific audience, bringing us back to the successes of niche journalism. I think the website will be able to maintain itself so long as it stays in touch with the audience.

    http://vatul.net/blog/

    Maitri’s VatuBlog is less of a website compared to The Magnolia Report, and is the exact definition of a blog. The blog is pretty informal as the author covers whatever she sees in her life. There are posts from everything on politics to recipes. It is much more informal but still well organized. It may be difficult to maintain a faithful audience because unlike The Magnolia Report, Maitri’s Blog is more of an example of LOCATION niche journalism, instead of TOPIC niche journalism. It seems to me like topic centric sites would be more successful in terms of attracting readers.

  12. 12 Danielle Wilson March 25, 2010 at 10:47 am

    I looked at a few sites from Albuquerque, New Mexico.

    Site 1- http://www.dukecityfix.com/
    Duke City Fix is an unedited community website that is moderated by a group of volunteers. They aim to build a “sense of place” for ABQ by giving insider information on the city’s people, places, events and news. The site has advertising, but an informal business model. I think overall it is a pretty successful site, because they have steady weekly contributers as well as ample opportunity for other members of the community to participate.

    Site 2- http://onlyinnewmexico.blogspot.com/
    The second blog, Only In New Mexico, is written by one man, Jim Baca. While this site technically is citizen journalism, but has less perspective since it is a single person’s blog. The only real interaction is through comments, and although he updates the blog frequently, some of the topics are more about his personal life and travels than newsworthy events in Albuquerque.


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