Citizen Journalism: Student Views

As an end-of-semester exercise, students in my tutorial, Citizen Journalism, reflected on their experiences posting content (text  and stills or video) to one of two citizen journalism sites: AllVoices or Demotix.  Students initially talked about citizen journalism as “competition” for beginning journalists, but eventually came around to seeing how they could, as one student put it, “co-exist” and maybe even benefit each other.

“With the opportunity for non-journalists to write and post their stories on sites like Demotix and IReport, it really made me feel threatened.  I felt cheated that I have invested a lot of money for a four- degree, and people are literally getting handed the essential tools we learned in a page of notes.

But she goes on to say: “The more the class progressed, I began to see the advantages of using citizen journalists for their ideas.”

Other students observed:

“The project in citizen journalism was certainly not a new experience.  We as college journalism students have been doing it for years now.”

This student also says that students and citizen journalists face the same problems:  lack of high-profile affiliation (i.e., “I’m with the LAT” gets phone calls returned) and a difficulty quickly locating credible sources.

Generating an Audience

Students also responded to the amount of traffic their stories got.  While one student thought that focusing on promoting their work and tracking audiences took away from reinforcing the basics, another one whose story on a cooking class got 800 plus views said,

“I was instantly inspired to do it again since the thought of other people seeing something I wrote was exciting.”

Another student who got 91 page views for her video on kosher food noted,

“If I would have promoted it more or made tags that were a bit more user-friendly it could have gained a larger audience.”

A student who wrote about weightloss surgery decided that the topic wasn’t a good one for citizen journalism.  Instead of trying to “emulate the mainstream media” in selecting stories, he said that writing for a very specific niche that would otherwise never get covered was the key to generating an audience with citizen media sites.

A student who reported on an Encino community garden also found pageviews weren’t enough for her:

“Within a few days my story had been Tweeted but never did I receive any comments.  I would have liked to have seen people’s thoughts, regardless if they were good or bad.”

Below is a summary of the views, Tweets and topics. Follow the links to view the stories.

Topic Pageviews Tweets or Likes Citizen journalism site
Cooking Class 839 1 AllVoices
Wine Shop 503 0 AllVoices
Weightloss surgery 365 0 AllVoices
Community garden 306 1 Demotix
Oaxacan food 279 3 Demotix
Kosher food 91 0 AllVoices
Winery 63 0 AllVoices
Locally owned fresh market 58 0 AllVoices
Homeless shelter cooking 50 0 AllVoices

3 thoughts on “Citizen Journalism: Student Views

  1. From the recent professional experience — a major protest with 100+ people outside the Chinese consulate regarding AIDS funding got 0% of media’s attention. An announcement that an adult film performer contracted HIV while working on set, got 100% of media attention.

    Conclusion: Sex sells, proximity is everything, unusual nature/sensationalism outweighs social issues in the news.

  2. If a citizen journalist had covered it, would it potentially have gotten coverage? My sense is most citizen reports get buried; however, should CNN decide to pick up an IReport or Demotix sell some photos (they just signed a deal with News Corp), it might make a difference.

  3. For the most part citizen journalism gets mainstream traction only if it’s something outrageous, otherwise it’s confined to a specific interest niche and/or locale. When it comes to broad, global issues such as was the case with the protest outside the consulate, it’s more difficult for citizen journalists to attract an audience.

    The summary of hits/tweets for different types of stories that you present above is a clear indication that the “Cooking class” resonates 16 times more with the audiences than the “Homeless Shelter Cooking .” Hence the immediate, personal relevance and/or interest takes precedence over broader social issues, i.e. homelessness.

    Since citizen journalists often produce news for free or at low cost, the audience potential of a story, or prominence/exposure, for a piece of content can be viewed as the driving incentive. So by that logic, CJs are more inclined to generate content that attracts a wider audience. In other words, the “audience market” dictates that it wants more news about cooking vs. homelessness.

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