By Steve Outing
The concept of “citizen journalism” has been around for a while now, and early applications of the concept typically have involved creating a platform for people to share what they know. A classic example of this is CNN’s iReport website, where all of us are encouraged to put on our amateur reporter caps and share news that we encounter. There are plenty of similar initiatives at local media websites, such as YourHub.com.
What if this is the wrong approach? I’m beginning to think it is.
Now, I do not argue that many people — empowered by the web, e-mail, digital cameras, social networks, blogs, micro-blogging services, smartphones, etc. — want to share their experiences. The popularity of social networks and services like Twitter offers plenty of evidence that people like to talk about what is important to them: themselves, their friends, and their experiences.
What we’re seeing is people spontaneously sharing their lives, and sometimes their personal experiences overlap with “news.” So if someone, like the guy above, happens to witness something extraordinary these days — say, a tornado that came close to his house — he might snap a photo or video with his cell phone. Then maybe he’ll post it to Youtube, or Flickr. He may post 140 characters about it on Twitter.
Those sort of reactions are, for the modern and digital-savvy person, becoming natural. Certainly not everyone reacts this way, but a growing number do.
What’s not as natural is posting to a news organization’s “citJ” website. It’s much more natural to share your experience with your social network, as opposed to sharing it with some company (news organization).
Ergo, I’ve started to realize that news organizations would be wise to focus less on creating their own citJ platforms and hoping someone will post something, and more on leveraging the social networks where people already are posting news. My previous post about Twitter touches on this; that micro-blogging service contains (amid all the personal fluff) real news that people are witnessing.
News organizations need to think outside themselves, which of course is something they’re generally not very good at. Perhaps instead of sinking a pile of money into their own citJ platform, they should instead be developing means to tap into the external venues where people already are sharing their news, filtering and aggregating that on a local level as a service to their own audience.
What do you think?