Citizen Journalism in Tennessee
Another citizen journalism site emerges. BlountCountyVoice.com is serving the Alcoa-Maryville area south of Knoxville, Tenn.
Like BlufftonToday.com and NorthwestVoice.com, (and the grandaddy: lawrence.com) this one also is producing a print product out of the online contributions.
In Colorado, the Boulder Daily Camera has begun Mytown.dailycamera.com, and Denver's Rocky Mountain News is promoting the May launch of YourHub.
Amy Gahran is not particularly impressed with the Colorado efforts. In a post on Poynter's E-tidbits, she says the sites are three to five years behind and calls for more innovation based on leveraging "the content, energy, and ideas" of contributors.
Since mainstream media typically is two to five years lagging, I suspect we'll see a lot of these sites pop up this year. Citizen journalism is the new "in" thing. As Gahran notes, however, most online communities are evolving quickly beyond these basic early models -- and most are not based on geography but on communities of interest.
It's the mindset that will count. Papers that look on these as ways to produce Neighbors sections on the cheap will stagnate, and we'll be back in the same place two years from now -- dropping viewership and readership.
The Camera, for instance, says it will publish the best contributions in the paper, while the Rocky is planning separate weekly YourHub sections. But if a person is going to the Internet to submit news to you, will he or she be impressed that you're deigning to print it in the paper? Will he or she even care?
Innovation online is what will count, blending that into the print side as appropriate.
Howard Owens of the Ventura County Star had a good comment on this post. Unfortunately, Blogger's comment function was on the fritz, so I 'm posting it here:
And my response:
Local, local, local I agree with entirely. And I don't disagree that there is a place for communities of geography. My concern is that we don't yet again become so geographically myopic that we fashion everything that way -- even within a geography there are going to be other communities of interest that are going to be vibrant and innovative we need to tap into, but sometimes in this business we get so geographically tied we miss that stuff (think about the struggles and debates we often have in trying to come up with workable, responsive structures in our newsrooms).
I think there is power in print, but my point isn't so much print versus electronic as the mindset: In conversations with too many editors and execs., the underlying tone has been more of let's move our intake to the Web because it's cheaper, rather than seeing it for what it is and can be, as you have. I guess I find the Camera's tone a little dismissive, too, esentially saying that if it's good enough, we'll put it in print. How about the other way around? :)
My concern becomes how do we make sure these efforts become both broad and deep. In that, I agree with Amy Gahran that it will be necessary to not just transfer our existing models as extension of geography and medium somehow made electronic, but to tap the innovative power of the contributors and let them help try to shape it
I think it will be fascinating to study how many and what types of people write for these sites. Will it just be the power structure in another form? After watching my volunteer students on the J-year blog -- some of whom begged to be on it -- fail to post, I think Pareto's Principle is firmly in play.