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Citizen Journalism Is the boom in user-generated content a boon or a threat to suburban newspapers? Journalists, researchers, dreamers

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citizen journalism

Citizen Journalism

Is the boom in user-generated content a boon or a threat to suburban newspapers?


Journalists, researchers, dreamers

  • The Cyberbrains are Missouri School of Journalism researchers with a special interest in citizen journalism and related media issues. They are the core managers for the MyMissourian project.
  • As a group, they have authored a book chapter, two conference papers and several presentations.
  • This research project was primarily the work of associate professor Clyde Bentley and doctoral students Hans Meyer and Jeremy Littau.
  • The data was used in a 2007 AEJMC submission
the cyberbrains team http thecyberbrains com
The Cyberbrains team

Clyde Bentley, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Missouri School of Journalism

Former newspaper general manager, managing editor and ad manager.

Jeremy Littau, M.A.

Doctoral student

Missouri School of Journalism

Former newspaper copy editor, sports editor and sports writer

Hans Ibold, M.A.

Doctoral student

Missouri School of Journalism

Former Web editor, technology reporter, arts editor and Peace Corps teacher

Hans Meyer, M.A.

Doctoral student

Missouri School of Journalism

Former newspaper general manager and managing editor

Debra Mason, Ph.D


Missouri School of Journalism

Director of Center for Religion, Professions and Public. Former religion writer and editor.

For information, e-mail

premature predictions

Electrical Experimenter, June, 1920, pages 147, 207-208:

"Newsophone" to Supplant Newspapers

Latest Electrical Invention to Provide "News" via Telephone at Low Cost

INSTEAD of chasing out "Bill" the office boy for a copy of the latest "Ux-tre-ee-e" detailing with horrible fidelity, the latest murder, scandal and I. W. W. outrage, you will in the near future, with the "Newsophone," the latest scientific distributing idea created by Mr. Lewis Yeager of Spokane, Washington, simply call up on your regular telephone and ask for the specific news wire you are interested in.

The present plans call for a comparatively simple arrangement of the news wires which may be centralized at either the newspaper headquarters, or at the offices of some large news distributing syndicate such as the Associated Press offices in the larger cities. The telephone subscriber who wishes the latest Social, Sport or others news will simply call "Central" and ask for the news wire. In a moment, the operator at the news headquarters will ask which news the subscriber desires, and having ascertained this, will immediately connect his line with the proper Newsophone instrument, and the newsophone is nothing more or less than our old friend the phonograph brought forth with a new dress,--in other words the news that you now read is recorded vocally on a wax record so that when you want to hear all about the latest suicide, divorce scandal, or what is happening to little Mary Pickford and "Doug" Fairbanks, or how many points B. & O. stock dropt today, it will be spoken to you, in a pleasant voice.

citizen journalism old as man
Citizen Journalism: old as man

It is unlikely that cave painters were paid. They documented their lives because they wanted to write, not because it was their job.

revolutionary citizen journalism
Revolutionary Citizen Journalism

The Founding Fathers were not journalists. They took their essays to printers like Ben Franklin, who distributed them to the public.

before there was j school there was cj
Before there was J-school, there was CJ

“These small items (called “personals” by some editors) often seem trivial to the editor but they attract and hold the country subscriber without whom the newspaper would not exist.” Walter Williams, 1900

(Also noted that these “reporters: often worked for stamps, stationary and recognition among their neighbors.)

Walter Williams

First dean of the Missouri School of Journalism

famous emotional journalism
Famous “emotional" journalism
  • Newspapermen like William Allen White were famous for their opinionated, emotional and personal essays:
  • "A rift in the clouds in a gray day threw a shaft of sunlight upon her coffin as her nervous, energetic little body sank to its last sleep. But the soul of her, the glowing, gorgeous, fervent soul of her, surely was flaming in eager joy upon some other dawn."
        • Eulogy for his daughter
covering vs sharing the big difference
Research background

Observe the scene

Interview participants

Consolidate information


Paradigm: Detachment

Time spent: hours to days

Create the background

Live in the scene


Remember the information

Share a life


Time spent: A lifetime

Covering vs. Sharing: The Big Difference



the citizen connection
The Citizen Connection
  • Blogging: An easy way to post text. Last post written is first read, so encourages frequent writing.
  • MoBlogs: Blogs driven by photographs. Can be filed from a cell phone.
  • Photo sharing: Photobucket, Flickr, Picassa. The descendant of the vacation slide show.
  • Social Networking: MySpace, Facebook, etc. The big cocktail party in the sky.
  • Open Source Journalism: Journalists mediate between the writer and the reader. “You write it, we print it” (after we’ve looked at it).
popularity not colleagues
Popularity, not colleagues

“For a journalist, a newsroom is the expression of collective intelligence with horizontal links between colleagues and fact-checkers, but also with vertical relationships from the basic journalist to the editor-in-chief.”

“For a blogger (or a wikimedian) the network hates vertical acquaintances and will always give the priority to horizontal linking and fact-checking… The real judge is the number of links to a site: popularity becomes synonymous of truth and quality.”

Bertrand Pecquerie

Director, World Editor’s Forum

four flavors of citizen journalist
Four flavors of citizen journalist
  • Owns a digital camera or a camera phone and sends shootings to a news organization during a major event … or a local car accident
  • Wants to cover the local or virtual community and produce targeted content
  • A militant and campaigns for political reasons.
  • Is eager to participate to a “conversation” with professional journalists and bloggers.

World Editor’s Forum

town chatter go with the pros
Town chatter? Go with the pros
  • A salesperson -- they know how to get around.
  • A town “busybody.” Every community has one.
  • An old-fashioned society editor.
  • The local “I’m in every club” person.

Managing citizen journalism doesn’t require writing skill, but it does take community knowledge and a nose for reporting. Who can help?

By Eric Wittman on Flickr

the blogosphere it s just a community
The Blogosphere: It’s just a community

Blogs are simply extensions of the information we trade at the coffee shop, sports bar, church social or Rotary Club.

Cover blogs like you would cover people:

  • Scan lots of information looking for tidbits
  • Find “regulars” -- the new media “sources”
  • When you find a good one, make them a “columnist”
  • Assign a reporter to the Blog Beat
  • Note: Always ask permission or at least contact the author before quoting. Politeness goes a long way.
seek those seeking an audience
Seek those seeking an audience

Your community has a host of people who want to be heard -- or at least heard from. Don’t assign stories, give them the opportunity to publish.

  • Newsletters from churches, clubs and neighborhood associations offer content.
  • Poets are always eager for an outlet
  • History buffs are often also writers
  • Look for the person who always has a camera strap around their neck.

John Hall

prolific photographer

new audiences
New Audiences

Research suggests those who read and participate in citizen journalism are …

  • Young
  • In committed relationships
  • Educated
community building
Community Building

The reasons for registering for a citizen journalism site include …

  • Community awareness
  • Finding an alternative voice
  • Not political activism

Example: Tony’s Harvest

Where do deer hunters go to talk about the hunt?

Tony Hancock, November 2005

what they want is local news
What they want is local news

Having an alternative source for local news is …

and they re not finding it in print
And they’re not finding it in print

“The media cover stories I am interested in …”

readers still want a guide
Readers still want a guide
  • Registration tripled at MyMissourian after the launch of a print edition.
  • More than 30 % said it was important for them to see their contribution in print.
  • Nearly half of MyMissourian users found the site through a personal contact or the local media.
warning this is not field of dreams
WARNING: This is not Field of Dreams
  • As Dan Gillmore said, readers want and deserve direction, including a clear understanding of what the site’s purpose is.
  • Finding those without a voice requires work and education.
  • But isn’t building communities worth it?

Contributors appreciate editorial oversight.

jeremy the search for evidence
Jeremy: The search for evidence

We investigated why people use citizen journalism by looking at the people who use MyMissourian

  • Survey of 103 users (24% of population)
  • No students involved
  • No faculty or staff of either the Missourian or Journalism school

Our goal was to find out what their reasons for using MyMissourian were and also to gauge their involvement in the community

why do people get involved
Why do people get involved?

Three facets of social capital

  • Civic Engagement: voting, volunteering
  • Interpersonal Trust (trust in neighbors, community)
  • Life Contentment

This is the “virtuous circle” of social capital according to Shah (2001). As the three above behaviors increase, so does the “investment” in one’s community. This is a predictor of strong and cohesive communities

use of mymissourian
Use of MyMissourian

Our study found three main patterns of use motivations for MyMissourian users:

  • Interactivity: Interactive function of MyMissourian
  • Process: Use of MyMissourian part of regular surfing habits
  • Content: Specific content is interesting to users
media use community
Media use = community

There is a long and documented link between strong communities and media use

Newspapers use is the strongest link, TV next

but newspapers look beyond the stats
But newspapers look beyond the stats

Newspapers’ stated mission to serve their communities

  • Serve communities with coverage is part of it
  • Serving communities by helping people link up with others is the other part.
  • Community building requires action. Media serve to link people in ways that create action.

Research shows that newspapers that show concern for their community also are judged to be most credible by readers

our research results
Our research results
  • Citizen journalism writers have the same sense of community as and citizen journalism readers.
  • Motivations combined with interpersonal trust highly predict activism in community.
  • Users said they wanted community
  • Users also are involved in creating community

The unknown: Is a citizen journalism site an either the agent of this creation of social capital or is it a vehicle for it?

model for use community building
Model for Use & Community Building

Citizen JournalismUse


Next avenue





Social Capital




next avenue for research
Next Avenue for Research
  • See if the community building results feed back into readership of the product.
  • Test what role exactly use of citizen journalism products play in the creation of community building
  • We predict that it will, because this is the case for other media.
  • Baseline survey released at product launch, then follow-up survey.
mizzou s cyberbrains can help
Mizzou’s Cyberbrains can help

For information about:

  • Participating in research projects
  • Access to and interpretation of academic research
  • Hands-on staff training
  • Consulting services

E-mail Clyde Bentley

Keep up to date by reading our 3-times weekly blog: