Citizen Journalism: The Newsroom Question

Posted by PrabhasPokharel on Sep 02, 2009

Traditional news media is a changing industry and conversations discussing the future of news media as it transforms itself abound.  What is the future of the newsroom in citizen journalism?, an organization that is devoted to bringing public policy into conversation about the future of news media, hosted a forum in late August where former staff of Rocky Mountain News and journalists from around Denver fielded a host of questions regarding the future of news media. Below are a few highlights of the conversation (transcript available in full here).

Cindy House:  Re: Internet/mobile/Twitter - The electronic platforms are here to stay, and news will, and is, evolving to meet these needs. However, by its nature, the Internet is reactionary and immediate. I think print journalism will be with us still for a long time to come, but probably will morph into longer, enterprise-type, big-picture formats [...] Exactly because the Internet is immediate, I think it will become the primary source for breaking news. With the time involved in the newspaper publication process, this lends itself more to the big-picture analyses that can be more "evergreen." [...] By "evergreen," I mean stories that aren't pegged to a specific instant in time. For instance, in the health care debate, covering what happens at a town hall meeting is immediate. Covering an issue raised at the meeting is more evergreen.

[In response to "John" asking Why is the question not SaveTheNews, and instead SavePrintNews?] Kim Humphreys: @John makes a fair point. I love newspapers. But I'm more concerned with saving the kind of journalism that traditionally has resided in newspaper newsrooms -- the kind supported by large, professional staffs and the resources to take some chances, i.e. follow leads that may or may not pay off, be willing to lose some revenue if an advertiser objects to news coverage. That's what we're really at risk of losing right now -- the newsroom, not just the newspaper.

Then, Clara Jeffrey at Mother Jones and Zach Steward at the Nieman Journalism Lab both published articles dissecting the cost of a New York Times Magazine cover story on triage procedures in emergency rooms in the US. The story took a ballpark of $400,000 to produce, reportedly, and Jeffrey in particular asks:

My point? This story—which could result in criminal prosecutions and should result in a national conversation among doctors and hospitals around their triage and emergency procedures—is the kind of work that is in peril now that the financial underpinnings (i.e. advertising) for journalism have collapsed. Bloggers and commenters and citizen journalists can’t take on a project like this. They can add to it, amplify it, criticize it, and generally run with it, but a project like this requires consistent, institutional teams of reporters and editors and factcheckers and lawyers and web dudes.

The big question for citizen journalism as it develops is: where is the newsroom in citizen journalism? Is citizen journalism a viable platform for investigative reporting, or is it only good for breaking news? The answer is yet to be discovered, we think. There is certainly potential for a citizen journalism-based newsroom. Help Me Investigate bills itself as a platform for collaborative investigation, and allows citizen investigators to share findings. Spot.US, a 2008 Knight News Challenge winner has as its tagline "community-funded journalism" and a platform where citizens in the Bay Area pitch story ideas and receive funding from members of the site to investigate. The results are yet to be seen.

The adjacent question for mobile-based journalism is: what is the role of mobile phones in the newsroom? Will mobile phones just facilitate breaking news and lead generation, or will they have a place in long-term investigative projects? The results in breaking news coverage are already there (see various Ushahidi-based projects, and reporting during various elections), but their place in long-term investigative coverage is yet to be seen.

Cropped photo; original by telegraphmedia on flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

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