Since the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 and the 7 July bombings seven months later, the ubiquity of cameraphones has frequently made readers’ images the first source of information about major events – particularly disasters.
Around that time, the phrase ‘citizen journalist’entered the lexicon. The jury is out on whether that term will stick – but if you take it to mean more audience involvement in making the news, it is more relevant now than ever. That’s why Press Gazette is again hosting the Citizen Journalism Awards.
From the MyTelegraph blogging platform to The Guardian’s user-generated travel reviews – which appear both online and in print – greater interactivity, sometimes called web 2.0 technology, has become the must-have feature for journalism websites.
Some journalists fear that cost-cutting newspaper owners see citizen journalism as a way of dispensing with expensive professionals altogether. But others focus instead on how journalists and an active audience can collaborate.
As David Cohn, one of the organisers of the recent Networked Journalism summit in New York, argues on this page, the term ‘citizen journalism’today covers a whole range of very different activities.
What they all have in common is an attempt to harness the way the internet changes the relationship between journalists, their sources and their readers.
In the past three years, these changes have moved well beyond the endless trawl through thousands of images and messages submitted by readers on their mobile phones.
While attempts to create purely amateur-run publications have largely failed, collaborative efforts between established media and community groups have made it possible to develop a ‘hyperlocal’level of coverage.
Others are adopting ‘crowdsourcing’techniques to gather news with a finer mesh than traditional methods would have allowed. One US newspaper asks
its readers to mark potholes on an online map, allowing it to develop stories about weaknesses in the local council’s efforts to maintain local infrastructure.
Interactivity has become more widespread behind the scenes. News has become invisibly interactive, as news organisations have become more reflexive, using their web traffic statistics to refocus coverage based on what readers are searching for.
Some broadcasters are experimenting with responding to website comments and usage figures to help determine the news agenda and running order of some programmes.
The second Citizen Journalism Awards will attempt to match these changing developments by moving beyond merely rewarding readers’ snaps and comments. Instead, it will seek to recognise news organisations’ efforts to adopt interactivity and community into their newsgathering.
The awards are due to take place in March next year. But before we finalise the categories, we are kicking off a debate with awards partner Votivation on where citizen journalism is today.
To comment on the question: ‘Does citizen journalism pose a threat to the traditional values of mainstream print journalism?’go to pressgazette.co.uk/votivation