It was with some concern I read this week that Nordjyske's regional freesheets Centrum Morgen and Centrum Aften would merge with JP/Politiken's 24timer and be published as 24timer Centrum after the holidays.
Yes, it's just another, perhaps inevitable, merger in the once so overcrowded Danish freesheet war, and 24timer had already swallowed JP Århus+, another regional freebie, but with DitCentrum.dk Nordjyske pioneered one of the most interesting citizen journalism projects around:
A lot of newspapers allow their readers to set up blogs on their site, which is great for increasing traffic to the news site, but most separate the blogs from the rest of the newspaper - which means there's no synergy between the bloggers and the news. Nordjyske has avoided this by taking to heart examples such as American backfence.com, newsvine.com and digg.com as well as Korean ohmynews.com: blogging is not separate from the news stream, but part of it. At ditcentrum.dk readers can upload blog posts, articles, pictures, opinion pieces and poems, which may then be printed in the real paper the next day. And people happily report on local stories such as flooded tunnels, the price level at local pizza takeaways or compile a photo gallery of fun trucks trafficking the region's highways (In this paragraph, I'm paraphrasing a few lines I copy-pasted from a review by Henrik Föhns, published last summer, but the link is broken after Journalisten.dk redesigned its site)
Lars Jespersen, a managing editor at Nordjyske explained: 'The readers' contributions are not confined to a separate section, but scattered throughout the newspaper. We have 12,000 unique users at centrum.dk every week and are very happy about that. The readers' stuff we print can be stories about local affairs, reflections on life, opinions, poems, pictures. Lots of pictures. It's a mixed bag.'
This concept, Jespersen told me, will not be affected by the merger, and, together with its readers, Nordjyske will supply all the local coverage to 24timer Centrum – which will get a circulation of 35-40,000 and be distributed both at traffic hotspots and door-to-door.
Of course, the future success of 24timer as such will not in any way rely on this regional citizen journalism project alone. Far from it: it's still war, and many feel that four major freesheets is at least one too many for the small Danish market. But in the larger scheme of things, this is one of the citizen journalism projects I've come across that makes the most sense to me.
I think people need a strong motivation, or a strong sense of community, to produce citizen journalism that can compete with or supplement mainstream media, as in the case of readers reporting on local issues, and local newspapers are perfectly placed in this respect. I can totally see myself submitting a story for free to my local newspaper about a community issue I care about, political or practical, and, of course, it's the perfect way for a local or regional newspaper to become more relevant to its readers.