Brainstorm Citizen Journalism Initiative

Convenor: Ken Sands

Participants: Sue Ellen Christian, Sarah Stuteville, Charlotte Hall, Matt Thompson, Jarah Euston, Dan Gillmor, Jan Schaffer, Lew Friedland

There are 39 citizen journalism initiatives listed here:

What have we learned from those experiments, and what would the next iteration look like?

The committee threw out a lot of ideas, both specific and general. In the end, perhaps there were more questions than answers.

The original concept, offered up as a beginning point, was to have one neighborhood zone representing each elementary school boundary area as a means of identifying manageable neighborhoods that cover the entire geographic area, and are somewhat identifiable by the one common focal point — the neighborhood school.

Here are some highlights:

Matt: Current TV is a good example of using TV for citizen journalism. Some documentaries are really good.

Lew: In Madison, he’s convening how-to workshops for citizen journalists, and developing a curriculum that could be useful across the industry. It might be ready in a couple of months. Ken questions whether too much training will turn them into boring journalists with the same problems we have.

Lew: One question is whether citizen journalists should write with a point of view (one aspect of blogging that makes it so popular) or be like neighborhood beat reporters.

Jan: Before you launch, you must have a clear vision of what it will look like in the end. Contributors need a roadmap. She’s found this to be the case in the citizen media initiatives her J-Lab organization is funding.

Dan: You should pick a specific topic or neighborhood to start. Offer blogs to anyone who wants one. Have in-person training or meetups. Explain the revenue model, if there is one, so they understand why or why not they’ll get paid and why they should help the media’s profit margins. Make sure the site is populated with information — nothing worse than an empty wasteland. Good idea to force people to use real names for stories and blogs, although pseudonyms might be OK for comments. If you allow reports to be wiki’d, put the editing on the facing page from the original.

Matt: You might want to try a Big J journalism project on a community scale. Perhaps dozens, hundreds or even thousands of citizen journos could do the necessary ground work to develop a big story one small piece at a time.

Dan: You need to provide the best possible portal to everything else going on in the community. Aggregate links. You could have maps that annotate, such as where locations are in the community with bad potholes. And you could ask readers to provide the photos of the potholes to feed the annotated map.

Jarah: Whatever else, it needs to hve arts and entertainment.

Sarah: I like the idea of people writing their own review of music and movies.

Jan: You could create 5 zones of participation: Civic zone (been there, saw this, 360 degrees, art buttons, fix this), getting smarter (report card, elections, issues, homework, pissed off), my mom (my music, my movies, my sex, cheap eats, civic passions, pissed off), see this (photos, videos, pissed off) and making it happen (non-profits, research, results, values in action, volunteer needs).

Jarah: Like the notion of “ready aim fire” in that in doesn’t have to be so heavily compartmentalized. It doesn’t have to be hidden behind neighborhood doors. People who don’t have kids won’t identify with the neighborhood-by-school definition. Don’t be preordained in how you set this up.

Matt: People are much more likely to coalesce around areas of interest, local utility, than artificial school boundaries. You need to have a sense of your audience.

Charlotte: What about accountability? Credibility and accuracy? How is it edited? Branded? Acknowledge and understand these issues.

Matt: Let the readers define the standards.

Ken: My conclusion: perhaps the “ready fire aim” (or RFA) approach would work with this. Release it in “beta” form just like Google always does. Invite citizen input. Heck, maybe the readers help formulate the definition and design from the beginning with “open source” meetings from the beginning.

Working title:

RFA Spokane

you design/you define/your community

Coincidentally, while we were meeting in Kalamazoo, the Poynter Online News listserv was humming with comment over this Online Journalism Review article:

My question is what to do next to learn from those experiments.

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