Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism @ We Media

A discussion moderated by Dan Gillmor, featuring Lex Alexander (Greenboro News & Record), Susan DeFife (Backfence) and J.B. Holston (Newsgator).

Gillmor: Is “big media” getting it?

Alexander (Greensboro News & Record): To the extend media organiztaion of any size are really listening, the closer they are. Where we got off to a good start was after we came up with the germ of the idea, we asked our readers how this should look, work etc. Nine months later we’re still working through suggestions. We started after less than two months of discussion and at a moment when the budget had been decided. The bottom line is that if you’re not engaging in coversation about content and the way this content is made available — you might have hardware — but it won’t work.

Gillmor: What works?

Alexander: The blogging facet has gotten the most response. We now have 18 staff blog. They were generating close to 700,000 hits a months, about 1/10 of the hits on our site. In some cases we have hundreds of comments — typically we get 2-4-8. The K12 education blog gets a lot of participation. The top editors blog gets a fair bit of comment.

Gillmor: Susan, can you do it from scratch and start conversations?

DeFife ( We did start from scratch. We looked at where the gaps are, focused on communities (50,000 to 75,000) and it’s completely citizen generated. We were mostly concerned with the interface — wanting to make them feel like they are e-mailing a friend. There is demand for hyper-local news, what people need is a platform. We trust the intelligence of a user and their ability to express themselves.

Gillmor: Can you be hyper-local at the neighborhood level?

DeFife: Sure you can. First you have to introduce the idea of citizen produced and posted.

Gillmor: Is there a business.

DeFife: Yes. Around this we have display advertising, classifieds and Yellow Pages.

Gillmor. J.B., who needs media organizations? Is there a complete bypass going on?

Holston (Newsgator): We talk about that a lot with our media customers. My answer depends on brand equity. If you’re a newspaper and you know that local news is what you’re all about, the traditional brands have a tremendous role to play.

Question: The technical skills are becoming more important to the reporting… How much is technology a problem for you?

DeFife: You have to know and understand your audience. Here’s why don’t do RSS — less than five percent of users do RSS; less in our community. The reason we built a new platform is because the user doesn’t know what blogs and wikis are — we just wanted to give them a white window that looks like e-mail.

Question: In what way are you trying to make sure that whatever the public wants includes what the public needs.

DeFife: You can’t make that judgement.

Alexander: If you’re listening to the community, they’ll tell you what matters. Your citizens will find what’s important to them before your staff does.

DeFife: We’re not going to replace investigative journalism. We want to create conversation. We are not journalists — we are letting the community ask the question.


2 Responses to “Citizen Journalism”

  1. Did you really sit at a table with Al Gore?

  2. I really did.

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