By Steve Outing
Since writing my recent Editor & Publisher Online column on the lessons learned about grassroots media from the demise of my company, the Enthusiast Group, a number of commentators seem to have seized on that to suggest that “citizen journalism is dying.” Combined with the demise earlier this year of hyperlocal grassroots news network Backfence.com and other failures in this realm, we now have a new wave of media people professing that this proves the concept is a failure.
Good grief. My company’s experience proves no such thing. As is clear to anyone who read my column, I suggested that grassroots media is a mega-trend that won’t abate, but I believe that what user content needs to succeed as a business is professional editors to be the ones to sift through it all to find the stuff that people will care about, and technology to identify and distribute content that matters to very small groups of people (e.g., everyone who lives in your neighborhood).
And there’s great potential for news companies to combine user content and user effort in crowdsourcing (aka, pro-am journalism). That will enhance the news product of existing media companies, and perhaps drive new ones.
Also, as the many older “web 1.0” niche discussion forums demonstrate, unadulterated user content and conversation can drive large online communities. I can think of several in the niche sports space that have been around for years and have developed large and thriving communities. But such forum websites don’t tend to grow into large businesses or attract a lot in the way of advertising; the participants have to be willing to put up with sorting through a lot of crap to find the good stuff, or willing to search for what they want or need. (Good example: Letsrun.com, the premier online community for runners.)