Citizen journalism needs the opportunity to fail, strong community management

March 23rd, 2010 by Chris Hogg Leave a reply »

This post is about citizen journalism, and more specifically an interesting sit-down Megan Garber of Nieman Journalism Lab had with Minnesota Public Radio‘s Linda Fantin and the Sunlight Foundation‘s Ellen Miller.

In the video below, the two talk about experiments with community-generated journalism. The interview is interesting because the two mention a few points that distinguish a citizen journalism experiments from those in traditional newsrooms.

Working with Digital Journal, I absolutely agree with a few points.

The first point is the ability to fail: Unlike a big media outlet that cannot always afford to take risks and experiment, a citizen journalism news outlet needs to be nimble and accept not every idea will work.

The ability to fail is key to success, because without the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t, a user-generated news outlet doesn’t always get a chance to develop best-practice methods.

The world of digital media is changing, and changing quickly, so the more opportunities media have to experiment the more likely we are to come up with a future for journalism that is based on real-world experience and experiments.

The community element is also incredibly important, as a user-generated news network relies on contributors to grow.

At Digital Journal, growth has always been the goal, but we’ve done everything with the tenets of good journalism in mind; fact-checking, sourcing, balance, objectivity, etc.

The world of news needs good journalism to work, so growth needs to always keep that in mind. Throwing out the fundamentals of good journalism to increase pageviews is suicide for a news site, so I’ve always believed management needs to be very active within the community and encourage good journalism over simply going after pageviews.

My experience has been fortunate in this aspect; most of the citizen reporters I’ve had the privilege of working with have been keen to learn how to practice good journalism, or make their reporting better. They may not always know how to be a good journalist while they’re starting out, so when it comes to community a citizen journalism site needs management that will be nurturing, but also firm and informative. Clear direction is key.

The citizen journalists I work with every day work very well under pressure and follow guidelines to the letter when they’re given a bit of coaching. In the end, everyone wants good-quality work, so managing a citizen community well is key to the birth of good user-generated reportage.

There’s a cliche about teaching a man to fish that works perfectly as an analogy for building a network of good citizen journalism.

I won’t spoil more of the video at this point, and instead invite you to hear Fantin and Miller talk on the subject.

And about the background noise in the video: As Nieman Journalism Lab notes, “the video’s soundtrack, if you’re wondering, is an apparently epic game of ping-pong taking place in a nearby rec room.”

Ellen Miller and Linda Fantin on experimentation from Nieman Journalism Lab on Vimeo.

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