Monday, November 1, 2010

Citizen Journalism: Lebron James and Conservative Politics

I am a journalist, an official CITIZEN JOURNALIST. Everything I’m about to tell you is objective, truthful and may or may not have some hidden bias behind it.

Anyway, here are a few things I considered before launching my career:

-What was I capable of writing about? What did I want to write about?
-Where would I submit my articles?
-Would my articles actually be published? If so, why would they be published?
-Why is citizen journalism important? Who cares what amateurs think?

To begin answering these questions, I first took on the daunting task of deciding what to write about. Because I’m such a diverse, dynamic and undeniably interesting human, this was really difficult. Eventually, however, I overcame this obstacle and settled on politics and sports.

From there, I found two citizen journalism websites offering relevant opportunities. I wrote an article about the Lebron James “Rise” commercial by Nike for Helium. You can read it here. Then, for my article on politics, I joined a conservative community, Red State, and submitted an article about Barrack Obama’s speech at Library Mall. You can’t read it here because it is still pending. Go figure. (Note: I submitted this to a conservative site because I wanted to see if it would get published and whether or not I would get any feedback on it. I’ve heard nothing, but my account is still active.)

As far as opportunities go, citizen journalism is a great way to practice your writing skills, consider angles and topics you wouldn’t normally think about and expand your worldview. It enables everyone to contribute to online conversations through intelligent, “well-researched” and informative collaboration.

On Helium, citizen journalists have endless opportunities to voice opinions. Whether it’s submitting an article for one of their contests, contributing to someone else’s story or writing just to write, there isn’t really a downside from an author’s perspective. While composing intelligent articles is definitely time-consuming and tedious, it’s actually kind of rewarding. Maybe it’s because I’m in the J School, but I felt like I was fulfilling some sort of civic duty by writing for these sites. Also, there are a lot of incentives to write for Helium. You can actually get paid to write if you build out your complete profile and earn some credibility on the site. Or, you have opportunities to have your work showcased on the front page and potentially published by real news outlets, giving you official bylines to add to your portfolio.

Red State doesn’t offer a lot of incentives to write, but they have an intuitive platform for participation. I think, for Red State, this is a huge opportunity. This is a big assumption, but I’m guessing that the majority of contributors on Red State are probably a little older and not tech savvy. Having a website that is easy to navigate and post on is probably encouraging to someone who frequently gets frustrated by new technologies.

While there were a lot of opportunities overall, there were also a lot of challenges. I mentioned before that you could “easily” post to these sites—easy is a relative term here. There were a lot of barriers to entry. On, my articles are still pending review by a moderator. I’ve received no feedback.

I have to ask: does a moderator even read the articles? does someone just read the headline and make a decision? how can you trust anything on the site when it is all Republicans, with conservative biases, writing one-sided stories? is this citizen journalism?

As far as challenges on Helium, there is a lot of clutter. There is an overwhelming amount of ways to contribute to the site that I struggled to get started. To sign up for an account, request a headline, wait for approval, contribute to a headline, write and post my story, etc, etc took energy and effort. Seeing this first-hand, it's hard to imagine that a lot of people are willing to put in the work. Someone trying to become a professional journalism would probably be better off focusing their talents elsewhere and casually using these kinds of sites as a supplemental tool.

Overall, citizen journalism promotes a democratic-model of participation and supports the notion that cyberspace can serve as a new public sphere. It can, at times, also act as a 5th estate by surfacing unpopular but necessary points of view and holding traditional media outlets accountable. At the end of the day, however, the technical knowledge required to access the sites and the sometimes inefficient nature of the platforms act as barriers to entry, which limits participation. In theory citizen journalism seems like a panacea to society's deteriorating civic engagement but might be less practical than it was once believed to be.


  1. While citizen journalism seems like such a great idea, I just don't think it's practical. Anyone who's ever started a blog and tried to update it frequently knows the huge time commitment blogging requires. While citizen journalism is a bit different than blogging because you're publishing your work on someone else's site, they're similar in that it's easy to get discouraged from posting when you're not seeing any immediate returns. Also, in citizen journalism you're competing with other individuals for the space on the site, further decreasing the chances your work will even be seen.

    It's great to think that citizen journalism will greatly benefit our communities and allow everyone to have a voice, but there doesn't seem to be any incentive worthwhile enough to get you to write frequently. Even the sites that do compensate you for writing, the compensation is usually so low it doesn't even come close to what real journalists make (which is low!). Citizen journalism might be fun to try for the novelty aspect a time or two, but once that wears off, you'll realize you're just doing work for free.

  2. I feel as though citizen journalism sites are created by news outlets (I use that term loosely) as a cheap and lazy way of getting stories. Likely unpaid compensation only supports a system where journalists halfheartedly produce stories for organizations who don't want to pony up for professional work. If writers are able to send in any story they write, what's to stop them from falsifying their interviews or making up statistics? I can't imagine editors at these sites take too much time to double-check their sources. Additionally, why would you want your article published on an amateur site for zero money and the possibly of having your article buried under a pile of mediocrity? If CNN's iReport is successful, I believe it's because people are in the right place at the right time to capture local events. For example, if their is a tornado in your area and you take pictures/write about your experience, this is probably the first and time you may have your work showcased nationally. I'd prefer journalism be left in the hands of "professionals".

  3. For sure, Nick. The thing about these sites is that there is a very low barrier to entry and a relatively low barrier to publish work. Take my example: I joined a site, whipped up an article and submitted it for "publishing." After a re-read I noticed 1-2 typing errors and almost every claim was unsupported. While the majority of people read these sites with a grain of salt, i.e. they don't take it as seriously as they would the NYT, it is still titled "citizen journalism." To me, it seems more like simply blogging or writing an op-ed. The toughest part? I really don't know what could be done to simultaneously encourage free participation, with low barriers to entry, while maintaining a high degree of professionalism - it's just too idealistic.

  4. I agree with what has been said. I dont see a huge incentive for citizen journalists when they dont get paid well and it is such a large commitment to write all the time, and well. I am much more inclined to read an article by a "professional" journalist on NYT website than to go looking for citizen journalists.

  5. I think it is very interesting that you submitted an article about President Obama to a conservative community and to watch how they handled the publishing of the article. At the same time, I'm not surprised that they haven't posted your article yet (if ever). Furthermore, Red State has a clear political affiliation, a place where individuals go to read about issues of importance to them.

    In this sense, I believe Red State is functioning as an echo chamber. It appears that other views are not openly published on this site. (but who knows, maybe the editors take a long time to publish anyone's work?) I believe that if someone tried to publish a conservative focused article on a "Blue State" news site, the same thing would happen...the article would not be welcomed.

    These sites function similar to Fox News and CNN, they each have a known political affiliation and individuals tend to watch the station in which their views align. I do not think that this is good for society because minority views are suppressed and opinions and view points aren't challenged.