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Harvard Paper Provides Citizen Journalism Insights

Michael Maier, founder and CEO of Blogform Publishing, provides insight into the possiblities of citizen journalism’s future in a discussion paper entitled Journalism without Journalists: Vision or Caricature? He wrote it for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Here are highligths, starting with Maier writing about one of his own initiatives:

When I founded Readers Edition, the term “citizen journalist” was not yet as confusingly common and widespread as it is today. Too many media organizations had hastily recruited readers as cheap contributors, promoting these “citizen journalists” as a great innovation, when in fact their goal was cost savings. With Readers Edition we saw the readers’ role differently; we really wanted to give them a voice. I was curious to learn what readers were really interested in, as opposed to what journalists think is important for their readers to know, or as opposed to what topics the marketing department pushes (I sometimes think that if the marketers had their way, papers would consist solely of car, cosmetic, and watch sections.). I had two different editions of the same paper in mind: one produced by journalists, the other by readers. What would be alike, what would differ? What rules should be established? Would it work at all? What if none of the readers was willing to write?

Of course, this allows me to make one more pitch for Representative Journalism my concept to reinvent journalism.

He adds:

Sometimes, when a very long, self-loving text about some bizarre topic arrived, I considered renaming the paper Writer’s Edition. People write what they like. They write about “things they care about, in their own voice and in the formats they think are best fit for them,” as German media-scientist Stefan Büffel puts it. Readers who write hardly think about other readers. They are driven by self-realization.  

Paraphrasing Bill Kovach, founder of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, Maier writes:

 If today’s journalists stopped considering themselves superior to others…they could become their readers’ teachers and thus bring a new and enriching quality to journalism.

Here are some ways to involve citizens:  

Engagement through interactive databases; interactive engagement in conceiving stories, providing expert input and advising on sources of data; and engaging in direct conversation with the audience in blogs as part of the reporting on a series of stories.

Here is how the blogging landscape has changed:

Clay Shirky, a blog-provocateur from New York, points out that two years ago, the most popular blogs were run by individuals with strong opinions. Today, the ten most popular blogs are all collaborative. The Huffington Post is an outstanding example, bringing together the voices not only of its regular contributors, many of whom are experienced journalists, but also of individuals who are themselves news subjects.

While a fellow at Harvard, Maier conducted a small survey of political bloggers which he says:

…contradicts another predominant prejudice, namely, that bloggers want to destroy the old media. Only a tiny fraction (7 percent) thought that blogging was going to “replace old media,” and 4 percent saw no interaction between blogging and the old media at all. The overwhelming majority (83 percent) saw blogging as “complementary to old media.” Nor do they feel they really threaten the media: 26 percent saw themselves as a threat, but 74 percent thought that they “add value to the old media.” Of course, they want to be unique: 78 percent say that they are “covering what old media misses.”


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