How do we help communities become active participants in the news, and establish a way to vet them so that any good work is legitimate in the eyes of editors/publishers/executives?

Session Hosts: Keegan Clements-Housser & Amber Rivera

Karen Alvarado
Alex Powers
Cameron Whitten
Emily Olson
Bill Densmore
Matt Gatie
Khari Johnson
Shawn Poynter
Linda Jue
Lauren Pabst

“Citizen journalism is here to stay; we can’t put that genie back in the bottle.”

Note: Throughout the session we used, interchangeably, the terms citizen journalism /community journalism/participatory journalism.

Why are you here?
• Collect wisdom on how we get the “pros” to recognize citizen journalists
• How to hand the reins to community
• The credentialing of citizen journalists

• Some countries have a panel for credentialing citizen journalists. Why not in the U.S., when there’s evidence of the value of every citizen being a reporter in our founding documents?
• Emergence of technology has changed the game…how might community journalists represent their biases in ways that are different than traditional journalists?
• Ethical decisions are personal…so what kind of training do citizen journalists need in it?
• “Participatory civic media” – a branch of focus for the MacArthur Foundation right now

What are the strengths and weaknesses of professional journalism, and of community journalism? (* indicates an item that was listed as both a strength and a weakness)

Professional journalism – Strengths
• Consistency of approach
• Set of ethical norms
• An entity for a consumer to appeal to if he or she is aggrieved
• Audience
• Dogma of objectivity*
• Compensation structures
• Legal protection & an institution to back you as a journalist
• Legitimacy & access in official spaces (asking for an interview with the Mayor, e.g.)
• Resources
• Network of colleagues

Professional journalism – Weaknesses
• Inflexible
• Pressure from the ownership/financial ties/system/donors
• Focused on the audience, and driven by that focus (direct or indirect)
• Dogma of objectivity*
• False equivalency/balance in the reporting

Community journalism – Strengths
• Direct feedback from consumers – no institutional buffer
• Mission-driven. Specifically, social missions.
• Not yet jaded. Or jaded so much that the individual has been moved to action.
• Concerned about individual reputation in a community; personally accountable.
• No potential for editorial divergence from reporters’ coverage
• Lower barrier to entry*
• Biases are more apparent
• No deadlines, and no pressure to publish
• Can access some people that professional journalists cannot
• Editorial freedom (or, more flexible editorial structure)

Community journalism – Weaknesses
• Lower barrier to entry*
• Coverage gets picked up without attribution
• Exposure to risk
• Lack of an editor
• Invariable quality
• Uphill battle to be taken seriously
• Lack codified ethical framework
• Reliance on corporate social media platforms and their algorithms

How do we bridge these two areas of journalism? Ideas:
• There’s potential for collaborating around a shared agenda
• Always give attribution to citizen journalists if you use their work in your story
• Professional journalists could act as curators of citizen journalists’ content…maybe.
• Or, professional journalists could serve in the role of fact checker for the community journalist—only a fact checker/verification.
• We need a code of collaboration. Note: The Media Consortium is working on this!
• Poynter has been working on a code of conduct for citizen journalists
• Share the facts (Duke University Reporters’ Lab) is working to automate an index for accuracy…could that concept also be applied to individuals for legitimacy? (“BBB for citizen journalists, those who consume their content, and those who publish their content)
• Could establish community editors within news orgs whose only role is to build relationships with citizen journalists
• How can journalists hand off stories once they themselves must move on, for community journalists to continue the story?

Aside: Some emerging j-school trained journalists are unclear and anxious about how open they can be about their personal beliefs, in the current media/hiring ecosystem.