February 21, 2007
Citizen Journalism and the Replacement of the Pros with User-Generated Content

User-generated news. I've been hearing various media professionals lately criticizing moves in the industry that have led to columnists and journalists being let go in favor of less professional content and more homespun analysis. The blogosphere replaces professional writers, the collective intelligence the singular expert.

Now, certainly, even groups like C3 who value the idea of reader-writer dialogue and the sort agree that we're not going to see the professional disappear but rather be joined by non-professional voice who deserve a degree of validity.

Yet, I have heard of several instances lately in which a news division or editorial section dumps the staff entirely in favor of user-generated news and opinion. The most recent example came from earlier this month, in The San Francisco Chronicle, which carried a story about a small TV station, owned by Clear Channel, which fires its news staff and is looking for programming directly from its viewers.

The station is KFTY, situated in Santa Rosa, and it is listed as "covering one-eighth of the Bay Area" with an area so concentrated and ratings so low that it can't even be measured by Nielsen.

The station, "Channel 50," is asking the community "its independent filmmakers, its college students and professors, its civic leaders and others--to provide programming for the station."

With news stories pulled from larger operations, the idea is that this viewer-generated news would fill in the local gaps. No word yet on whether viewers will be compensated for their content, but this is seen at the station as a revolution, as an example of citizen journalism.

In the story, Joe Garofoli writes, "Media analysts believe there may be 700 citizen journalism outfits reporting on geographic nooks of the country and countless other bloggers doing various versions of the local news."

The article brings questions as to whether there can be the same level of trust in a citizen journalist and also questions the level of writing but points out that this is perhaps not the goal of citizen journalism in the first place. "In a J-Lab survey released this month, many citizen journalists felt they were 'a success' not because they had tons of readers, but because they had called attention to local problems overlooked by larger media outlets."

The article also included discussion about citizen journalism in helping cover breaking news, leaving more in-depth pieces to the pros.

Yahoo Media Group's Scott Moore says, these stories will evolve "wiki-style."

I wrote back in October that "citizen journalism does not seek to replace professional journalism but rather to augment it," and a situation where the news staff was let go probably had less to do with the rise of citizen journalism and more to do with the elimination of a news staff in the first place. The citizen journalism submissions merely came after-the-fact.

See more on some of these issues from me in the past here and here.

The Yahoo! quote was from the story, and no one at Yahoo! was contacted during the writing of this piece.


On February 22, 2007 at 9:18 PM, lynn liccardo said:

sam --

i can't remember if i posted this, or passed it along privately, (or maybe not at all:) but mimi torchin, founding editor of "soap opera weekly" and a soap journalist for 20+ years, was recently let go from abc's soapnet because, as she put it:

"Oh, the wonderful world of budget cuts. Brian Frons want to use free fan content on the SOAPnet site now. No sense trying to reason with ABC about good vs. cheap or free"

really makes you wonder what they would be paying soap opera writers if the writers guild didn't exist.

of course, this has huge implications for those of us of a certain age who would like to earn enough money writing so we can one day quit our day jobs. the economic model is changing so drastically -- i mean, what am i supposed to do with the eighteen cents i've thus far earned from my three short pieces on helium. and i just got a notice from a revieved site called suite 101, which expects ten articles every three months -- TO START. still looking into the payrates.

but, however the money eventually shakes out, it's pretty clear that while there are many more outlets, it's going to be a lot harder for writers to earn a living. and how quality relates to all of that is still an open question.


Good points, Lynn. What this means is that there's a whole lot more competition, so that more people can write but it won't necessarily be as lucrative unless you rise to the very type because the barriers of entry are much lower. Instead of a small group of editors deciding whose voice is heard, the gates are open for many more, and it will be more the recommendations and links of others to prove one's authenticity, a la Technorati deciding who the expert is.

As a journalist, I don't think professional journalists will cease to exist, but I also don't think citizen journalists are the reason why these guys lost their job. Obviously, Clear Channel made their move first and then decided to plug in citizen journalism after the fact. There will always be a place for professionalism and amateur content both.

The key to this is, and you know this is true Lynn, that people are motivated to write for more than just pay. The difference is when a strong economic model is built around seeing the content. People put videos on YouTube for free often to build a following and then to transfer that to a way to make money from that content. People may put their content on SOAPnet for free, but if they get a big enough following, of course they'll be doing that in order to launch that into a way to make money.