While studying the Madison Commons Web site, I noticed three main issues to be addressed:
- Need for social media, new media
- Need for incentive to publish pieces
- Need for moderation and structure
Madison Commons has a great concept that could serve as a city-wide information source for local and regional news. I think the overall organization of the site is intuitive. By giving the different neighborhoods their own news tabs, it localizes the news and allows users to look up not only their city and county news, but their very own town/village/neighborhood. The locality of it gives citizens a feeling of importance when publishing articles about their very own neighborhood. In this way, the site serves as a “neighborhood watchdog” by allowing citizens to personally report on the happenings in their neighborhood, to announce events, to raise awareness to an issue, etc. While this function is important for any community to have, Madison Commons needs to expand beyond this function to be successful.
Citizen journalism is quickly becoming a main news source for many Americans through social networks such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. As citizens witness events occur, instead of waiting to see what the news reports on it later, they now turn to their mobile device(s) and update their social networks- in essence launching their own news stories. If Madison Commons can create a buzz to become the singular online platform in the Madison area to publish these news updates to, they can create a collective voice authority.
However, some improvements should be made to take the Web site to the next level, encouraging more interaction and engagement from citizen journalists and readers.
I really like the use of the poll in the left hand column, the quizzes and the CommonsMaps. These tools necessitate engagement and involvement within the Web site. However, to be successful, Madison Commons needs to pull interaction from numerous platforms. By introducing a Twitter feed and allowing citizen journalists and readers to follow the account, news, site updates, events, new posts, and much more can be updated from here.
This incorporation of social media is important to modernize the site. Right now, it has a very traditional newsy feel. However, news is taking new forms in today’s ever changing mediascape. Media is going mobile and the faster news can be published, the more salient it becomes. Accuracy and urgency are still priorities to news reporting, and by allowing citizen journalists the ability to create and publish from their phones including images and video will stimulate consumers to use the platform. If Madison Commons could initiate a smartphone application or partner with an existing application to allows users to write and publish stories straight from their phones, I think the news publishing and interaction portion of the site would improve.
To encourage users to take the citizen journalist workshops and publish stories to the site, incentives should be created and enforced. An example would be if someone attends a workshop and recommends it to two friends, they can “unlock” a CommonsMap that includes daily food and drink deals from around the town. Perhaps Madison Commons could partner with a few local shops/restaurant/bars, that anytime their business is mentioned in an article or a tweet, the writer receives $1 off their meal/purchase (up to $X.00). These sorts of incentives will stimulate interaction. Another idea could be to host monthly Madison area image and video contests since the site lacks use of visuals. Web site users can upload their best photos and videos to go along with their stories. Readers can vote on the images/videos and a winner is announced at the end of the month. This winner gets a “Citizen Photographer/Videographer” profile on the front page of the Web site including a biography and any fun facts they’d like included about themselves. They can also win a prize. Bribes still work people!
These ideas foster higher levels of use and engagement to the Madison Commons Web site, which in turn increase the number of voices heard through the site. The shear number of opinions included will garner a wide range of viewpoints and issues reported, creating a legitimate news source that can be linked from other Madison area news sources (aggregated authority).
My last critique of the site is the lack of moderation and attribution. While the news stories are all attributed to named writers or outside news sources, reader comments, blog posts and discussion forum entries can remain anonymous. I think to run a legitimate news source in the Madison area, Madison Commons needs to require all citizen journalists to take a workshop before posting and provide their name with each posting. Also, I think anyone commenting needs to have to log in to the site. Not only does this help regulate Web site content, but it also gives consumer information to the Web site. This information can be used for expansion in the future. For example, a weekly/monthly e-newsletter, etc. Although it is citizen journalism, to be treated as a legitimate news publication, some degree of regulation does need to be taken.
Overall, I think the site has a great skeleton structure and the ideas are there. With a bit of expansion and added spice to it, I think Madison Commons can succeed as a legitimate citizen journalism news platform in the Madison area.
Will you contribute? Is citizen journalism a legitimate news source? Would you use Madison Commons as your regional news source?