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 redstate.com, 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.