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Citizen Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the future 11/28/07

Posted by Steve Boriss in Citizen journalism, Experts.
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The early returns are in, and it appears that Citizen Journalism, in which readers are enlisted to help create news that is more local and in-depth, will not be a real movement after all. There had been hope that Citizen Journalism might be a savior of Old Media — a way to integrate the benefits of new technologies, co-opt pesky bloggers, keep professional journalists in charge of our news, and keep “citizens” in their place as those who take direction from journalists. The first ominous sign was the folding of hyperlocal site Backfence.com, which apparently provided insufficient financial and/or psychic incentives to motivate a sufficient number of sufficiently talented users to participate. Now, a sadder-but-wiser Steve Outing is reporting similar experiences with his grassroots media effort.

The problem with Citizen Journalism is that it tries to force news back to what it was. Actually, worse than it was. It takes the same stale, one-size-fits-all, center-left, authoritative-tone news model that news consumers are rejecting, then adds large quantities of material from unpaid amateurs who have no particular expertise in reporting, editing, writing, or their topic. It also unrealistically expects people who are not “losers” to do this work for free (a particularly odd expectation coming from your typical minimum-wage-supporting journalist). Citizen Journalism seems to serve the wishful-thinking needs of job-fearing journalists, but not the real needs of typical news consumers who would just as soon read quality material without being asked to help.

The model that will work — that will make news better, not worse — is one that combines the talents of topic experts throughout the web with those who have a knack for aggregating and editing their material to satisfy an audience. While Citizen Journalism has had no successes, this model has. Dan Rather was taken down by a typewriter font expert who knew a forgery when he saw it. Editors like those at DailyKos.com know how to pick stories that energize their audiences. Citizens will be customers, reporters will be experts, and editing will be news outlets’ core competency. Expert Journalism is our future, not because it is good for journalists but because it is good for news consumers.

UPDATE: Mark Potts, the co-founder of Backfence.com, disagrees with my assessment of what went wrong with his venture. He remains optimistic about the potential of this type of journalism, and you can read his views of the lessons learned from Backfence.com here. In the first lesson learned, “engage the community,” he refers to a lack of a “critical mass of community participation and eyeballs coming to the site.” At the most basic level, this suggests to me that there were insufficient financial and/or psychic incentives to draw enough citizen-participants and the quality of their content was not sufficiently compelling to attract enough readers.

Comments»

1. Boink Blogs - 11/28/07

[…] Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the future Steve Boriss added an interesting post today on Citizen Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the […]

2. Wendy Withers - 11/28/07

In Tampa, we have The Tampa Tribune giving us “community columnists.” They’re normal folks chosen to give readers a diverse view of Tampa as a community. There have been about two or three columnists I’ve read since the program started, and they’ve always been experts writing about their expertise, like local historians writing about particularly interesting historical tidbits. The opinion pages and real columnists have been slowly disappearing from the pages. The paper is relying on AP stories to provide the news. And, readership is declining. They’re cutting the heart out of the paper and putting community amateurs in place of seasoned columnists who know their beats.

I think the future is in niche reporting. People look up exactly what they want to learn and ignore dissenting voices. I think journalists will have to find a way to bring both sides of a story into view even more than they did before. We’ve gone from Gene Patterson forcing conversations about desegregation in the South because he was a newspaper columnist everyone was bound to read to a deafening silence, because people don’t have to deal with the discomfort of knowing other people view topics in a different way.

3. Mark Potts - 11/29/07

As a cofounder of Backfence, I can tell you that this is simply untrue: “Backfence.com, which discovered that, without compensation, it could not motivate a sufficient number of sufficiently talented users to participate.”

4. Steve Boriss - 11/29/07

Mark, Thank you for responding to my post. I have updated it to include a link to your article on “lessons learned.” Please feel free to share any additional thoughts you may have.

5. Ydobon - 11/29/07

Instapundit reports Once again, CNN demonstrates an inexplicable failure to background-check pro-Hillary questioners at the Republican debate.

More plant varieties, including Edwards and Obama revealed by Michelle Malkin.

With video support.

“The best thing about Republicans agreeing to do the CNN/YouTube debate is that it created yet another invaluable opportunity to expose CNN’s abject incompetence.”

I’m at a loss for words.

6. Citizen experts not citizen journalists? : Journalism.co.uk editors blog - 11/29/07

[…] for the Future of News blog, Steve Boriss takes this one step further saying: ‘Citizen journalism is dead. Expert journalism is the future‘. To summarise, Boriss argues that citizens (and to some extent professinal journalists) […]

7. Xaaraan - Il blog di Antonella Beccaria » Dalla rete: giornalismo, fiducia e specializzazione - 11/29/07

[…] Boriss, Citizen Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the future: The model that will work that will make news better, not worse is one that combines the […]

8. Key Articles of the Week - 11/29/07

[…] Citizen Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the future The problem with Citizen Journalism is that it tries to force news back to what it was. Actually, worse than it was. It takes the same stale, one-size-fits-all, center-left, authoritative-tone news model that news consumers are rejecting, then adds large quantities of material from unpaid amateurs who have no particular expertise in reporting, editing, writing, or their topic. It also unrealistically expects people who are not “losers” to do this work for free (a particularly odd expectation coming from your typical minimum-wage-supporting journalist). […]

9. Tish Grier - 11/29/07

Wow. I can’t say I’ve read a more amazing amount of generalizations in one place in quite a long time. What type of “citizen journalism” are you talking about here? are you talking about the kind that is sanctioned by newspapers, or are you speaking of independent citizen journalism in its variety of forms? Seriously, Steve, give a little definition to your generalization….

Oh, and your idea of “topic experts” is kind of what blogging was years ago–a bunch of “topic experts” sharing information. Whether that information was about code, about cool websites they found, or about their lives, bloggers have, and in some cases will continue to be, “topic experts.” We don’t need journalists to be topic experts….

and what do you mean by “psychic” incentives on Backfence? that they didn’t have enough tarot card readers working there? Backfence was, in many respects a bit early–and there are a variety of reasons why *any* internet venture that relies on people-participation cannot reach critical mass. Money? Maybe. But money only creates a certain kind of community that won’t be there once the money runs out. There are many answers to why people participate some of the time, and why they don’t others. And the only way to answer those whys is to talk to the people who participated. Every project is unique because every project involves personalities and passions–which are the kinds of intangibles that business and journalism don’t want to hear about.

10. Steve Boriss - 11/30/07

Tish, Per my opening sentence where I refer to the type of journalism in which “readers are enlisted to help create news that is more local and in-depth,” I am refering to the type that is “sanctioned” by newspapers. I didn’t necessarily say that we needed journalists to be topic experts — if you read “The Future of News” under “Permanent Articles” in the upper right section of my site, you will see that I’m actually predicting a merger between reporters and news sources, with editors remaining as a separate and critical role. By “psychic” satisfactions I did mean a willingness to work for reasons other than money. Regarding whether time or money will solve the problem, I believe it is time for the proponents of Citizen Journalism to give us any real proof that this model can work — I do not believe I have seen it. And since there are an awful lot of logic flaws to this model, I don’t think any of us owe deference to this idea until they do provide such proof. This may end-up being a black hole for the time, money, and careers of those who are now pursuing this.

11. Steve Outing » Sharing lessons learned, and dealing with scrutiny of failure - 11/30/07

[…] of the folks who blogged about my column seemed to get my message, though there were some that I disagreed with. Then there was this oddball one by Tom Abate, comparing me to Dilbert creator Scott […]

12. The Anchor Woman » Blog Archive » Citizen journalism - the debate - 12/3/07

[…] this is also another good blog on the […]

13. Travis Henry, Editor of YourHub.com - 12/3/07

“Citizen journalism” is very much alive in Colorado. Pointing to Outing’s small experiment as proof of it’s demise is short sighted.

14. Idetrorce - 12/15/07

very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
Idetrorce

15. Steve Boriss - 12/17/07

Idetrorce, That’s the 2nd best compliment I can get. Thanks for reading!

16. Global Voices Online » China: Zuola on how citizen media should work - 12/22/07

[…] Shuguang's understanding of citizen reporters and citizen media', if you were to ask him: “is citizen journalism dead?”, you'd stand a very good chance of being told that bloggers like him can and must “do […]

17. giornalismi possibili : Il Citizen Journalism è morto, il futuro è il Giornalismo degli esperti - 1/10/08

[…] del Center for the Application of Information Technology alla Washington University di St. Louis ha annunciato sul suo blog qualche giorno fa che ‘’il citizen journalism è morto. Il futuro è del giornalismo […]

18. Media Trend: The future belongs to expert journalism — unitedBIT - 4/3/08

[…] will be customers, reporters will be experts, and editing will be news outlets’ core competency. Expert Journalism is our future, not because it is good for journalists but because it is good for n… Categories: Business trend, BusinessBIT   Tags: business trend, media, media […]

19. Retty - 8/11/08

[…] If people in the blogosphere are talking about the expert journalism, then it is really what we as citizen need. The problem is that some of those experts are too busy to provide an article with more popular way of featuring his or her subject. Journalists and bloggers (as netizen) are the bridge of those experts to a larger community […]

20. Miftarter - 5/22/09

nice! i’m gonna make my own journal

21. Retty - 10/29/09

[…] I’ve read a blog post (posted by Steve Boriss here) […]

22. Must user-generated-content risk quality journalism? | Online Journalism Blog - 3/12/10

[…] or more drastically, has meaningful civil engagement in the news already met its untimely death, as Steve Borris declared? SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "Must user-generated-content risk quality journalism?", url: […]

23. Must user-generated-content threaten quality journalism? - 3/16/10

[…] more drastically, has meaningful civil engagement in the news already met its untimely death, as Steve Borris declared? Tagged with: […]

24. Must user-generated-content threaten quality journalism? « Attorney Don Hecker Broadcast - 3/17/10

[…] more drastically, has meaningful civil engagement in the news already met its untimely death, as Steve Borris declared? Uncategorized No Comments March 17th, 2010 About… This author published 30 posts in […]

25. nookala rambabu - 8/9/10

Dear Receiver,
good morning.Yes some areas are indeed true.
Chris argrys Researched a concept called”Skilled-
incompetency”. a worth reading.
Potential defensive routines for not receiving Defamition
based claims has been found in reporting which now we
can call as skiled incompency reporting.
Accrding to poineering Innovative motives journalist
reaches the complexitites,evaluates and reports for
journalism acceptability by the receiver…thanks

26. Granny - 10/18/10

Don’t you dare refer to people like me as ‘losers’ who work for free. Most of us are over age 70 and want to make use of our masters degrees in English. We were turned down not because we are losers, but because there are not enough jobs in journalism for all the people who majored in English, creative writing, or journalism and expected to earn a living.

And most of us spent decades raising families only to return to the workplace as grannies and find employment was not offered….not because we’re losers, but because we’re past traditional retirement age.

We’re successful winners because we don’t work for money. We work to help the community as senior volunteers. And we work to give back to the community that allowed us to receive graduate degrees…in liberal arts…and we work to keep our brain stimulated and our creativity enhanced. No, we are not losers.

Just have traded the energy of youth for the wisdom of age. That’s why we are experts in our field who work for free or fractions of a penny as expert citizen journalists….We need appreciation for doing this work. So don’t class us with losers who don’t write, work, study, or learn something new each day. We’ve served our families for the past 50 years and now we serve our communities.

27. Seminário 6 – Web Social, Colaboração e Curadoria de Informação | Questões Contemporâneas do Jornalismo - 1/31/14

[…] Boriss, Steve (2007). Citizen Journalism is dead. Expert Journalism is the future […]


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