Yes, people will post news, but perhaps not when YOU ask

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?

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!

12 Responses to "Yes, people will post news, but perhaps not when YOU ask"

  1. Digidave
    Digidave 8 years ago .Reply

    I totally agree with you Steve. Aggregation is creation. Linking is an editorial service.

    Why spend $1.1 million recreating YouTube (unless of course you are CNN) if you can just grab the YouTube videos and embed?

  2. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 8 years ago .Reply

    I agree that aggregating existing content and conversation from the “outside” makes more and more sense. Isn’t that the definition of reporting, or perhaps a better definition for reporting in the ocean of voices that is modern media? In that environment, smart aggregation is a valuable service.

    I think it can be taken a step further, though. We should make it easy for anyone to do that. This concept is at the heart of Printcasting, where the “editor” or “publisher” can be anyone on the street, and the “reporter” is anyone who blogs. Collectively, all those bloggers are the “newsroom.”

    We don’t need to fear giving editorial control away like this because we can still print and distribute locally and sell additional ads into the publications that emerge. Plus, those people will and maybe already are publishing content we miss, or can’t / don’t want to resource against.

  3. Julie Starr
    Julie Starr 8 years ago .Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. News companies need to get out to where people naturally spend time and engage with them there.

    In my view that’s true not only for sourcing and soliciting ‘citizen news’ but also for distributing news.

    Life’s busy, the web is huge and it’s becoming unreasonable to expect people to come to your site every day to read and post news. Much easier for them to engage with you if they come across you on the interwebs as they go about their daily business.

  4. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 8 years ago .Reply

    Also, Twitter shows how you can use social connections and engagement outside of your site to take people back into your site via relevant links. That’s how I found this post. I have your blog in my feed reader, but most of my casual “grazing” time these days is in Twitter and Facebook. That means that news organizations can’t stop with just posting links in Twitter. They also need to grow their brands’ social connections with people who are likely to care about them. And I also think the brands need to interact more with the community — like @MarsPhoenix.

  5. Ken Sands
    Ken Sands 8 years ago .Reply

    My mantra for the past few years is “go where the people are” on the information superhighway instead of trying to coax them into your cul-de-sac.

  6. […] Yes, people will post news, but perhaps not when YOU ask. Steve Outing’s piece is related, in a way, to Doug Fisher’s as he looks at how real readers want to share their experiences. It’s interesting, as shown by both these pieces, how broad-based concepts (hyperlocal, citizen journalism) are being continually redefined as they run up against reality. […]

  7. […] Yes, people will post news, but perhaps not when YOU ask: SteveOuting.com Steve Outing is onto something really crucial here. I wish I'd realized this when we started the Boulder Carbon Tax Tracker project. It really is always easier to join a conversation than start one, especially online. "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." (tags: citizen+journalism media+evolution news+biz microblogging social+media services tidbits+fodder) […]

  8. Yann Ropars
    Yann Ropars 8 years ago .Reply

    I was talking to one of the director of a local radio station last week about your ideas on hyper-local news. The tornadoes that happen in Windsors, CO was exactly what came to his mind. They wished they had a systems to collect information on the scene.

    There is definitely a need for this and we’re close to reach a critical mass of users on Twitter like systems. If there was some sort of point system like many “blog comment” e.g. IntenseDebate – I think it would motivate people to participate and build online-journalistic equity – the Twittocracy!

    Common unit of experience drive people action… a zip code is a unit of experience… Twitt80303… etc?

    @YannR
    Keep digging Steve!@

  9. Mirek Kowalski
    Mirek Kowalski 8 years ago .Reply

    I still believe, that if we are manage to create “elegant” platform dedicated for local activists, as a separate product from our newspaper site, which will be also an aggregation platform for local bloggers, it will works. Now I’m working on such a project for 10 biggest cities in Poland, localized to city districts (www.mmmojemiasto.pl), which achieved 400 thousand UU after 6 month. Still lot to do, but first results, are encouraging:-)

  10. Dan Pacheco
    Dan Pacheco 8 years ago .Reply

    Quick, go register Twittocracy.com! Great idea. I wonder if the Twitter API would provide enough information to do that outside of Twitter?

  11. godius
    godius 8 years ago .Reply

    I totally agree, great post!

    Grz Godius

    NowTors: http://www.nowtors.com

  12. […] Outing has written a good post about people wanting to upload and share ‘news’ but not necessarily with news or […]

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