Do you think participatory journalism will grow beyond community newspapers (for which it does seem perfect) to national news organisations locally? Internationally the BBC recently announced a move to integrate more citizen generated content into its services.
I am a huge fan and supporter of citizen journalism, but it must be pointed out that we are in the hype phase of the citizen journalism phenomenon sweeping the globe. Although it is an amazing and revolutionary movement, let’s keep our heads. It is an important and evolving phenomenon, but I think that with anything in a hype phase of its evolution we are not paying enough attention to the inherent limitations and weaknesses with citizen journalism and getting lost in the spin. We are overemphasising the positive aspects of the phenomenon and not looking closely enough at the problem areas.
I predict that it will take a high profile blunder by a major blogger for the spotlight to turn on the weaknesses of citizen journalism — just like we saw with Wikipedia. It took some major high profile innacuracies and problems for people to start questioning the internet’s latest wunderkind: Wikipedia. Citizen journalists in general are not as accountable as traditional journalists. There are problem areas such as a lack of formalised ethics, a representative body, training, adherence to rules of balance and objectivity among bloggers and citizen journalists.
It was not long ago that our own Citizen newspaper mistakenly ran a dramatic picture on its frontpage of what it thought was the Asian Tsunami tidal wave — a hoax picture that was in fact taken years earlier of a flood in China. A paper in Canada made the exact same mistake. This was a picture sent around on the internet as opposed to coming via the professional media network.
It must also be pointed out that radio stations like 702 have been pioneering forms of citizen journalism via its listeners phoning in and reporting news and commenting on the news for years and years, before the arrival of the internet.
The BBC Online has always encouraged reader participation. It kept up its forums while many traditional media offerings were dumping them. At Mail & Guardian Online we see citizen and participatory journalism existing side by side with our traditional media offering, providing another take on the news, comment, critique and even fulfilling a media watchdog role.
To what extent is the M&G planning to make use of citizen/participatory journalism?
Citizen journalism is an important and evolving phenomenon. To some extent the Mail & Guardian Online already encourages participatory journalism via comment and debate on our rudimentary blog site and in forums. During the London blombings we asked people rthere to blog their personal experiences on our blog site. During the local elections we asked politicans to blog their personal ideas and views while on their campaign trails. As an experiment we also encouraged a journalist to blog their personal views about a story they were covering. On our site we have a link asking users to comment or blog about our stories. I think we can start asking users to participate in the news agenda, users can tell us what stories are the most important. We are experimenting all the time, but we have plans to do much more.
What are people writing about on your blogging service and how does this influence the content of your website and the paper edition?
Our blogging tool is a fairly rudimentary, but a relatively efficient and stable quasi blog-forum tool. It’s not a typical blog, but not a typical forum — it’s a hybrid which allows forum-like conversations, yet the ownership over content of a blog. People write on a range of different subjects, commenting on the news, their personal lives, the blog itself and the Mail & Guardian. We want to take the blog concept much further on the Mail & Guardian Online however and plans are in place to do just this. Our journalists should monitor feedback and critique from users in our forums and blog areas.