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How the media would handle the end of the world

Trends: Citizen journalism, or how to get your readers to do more of your reporting

Some see it as cheap or free labour lowering the standards of journalism; others as a vital tool to reengage a disengaged audience, levelling the playing field in the process.

Citizen journalism may have been a bit off the mainstream radar in Norway's online media town in 2007. Or perhaps other news sites were just watching and waiting to see how ABC Nyheter, who became the first Norwegian commercial news site to nurture citizen journalism as part of its site , fared. Perhaps they were even silently cooking together their own plans.

Opinion or news?
ABC Nyheter's citizen section turned into a lively hub with many diverse voices and perspectives, some covering parts of the world or stories completely off the radar of mainstream media, such as elections in Albania or Chile. But overall, the site found that most of the articles submitted in the citizen journalism section was opinion rather than reporting, and even when given the option to file submissions either as a 'citizen article' or 'opinion piece', people chose the former while submitting the latter. As a result of this, ABC Nyheter is currently looking at new forms of editorial control and incentives they hope will deliver more actual 'citizen reporting' in addition to 'citizen opinion'.

A local notice board?
At the back end of 2007, Edda Media, Mecom's Norwegian branch, soft-launched its 'citizen journalism project', or 'the readers' newspaper' as the company often refers to it. It may even be misleading to apply the term 'citizen journalism' to this portal, meant to feature as a subsite to local and regional news sites, where readers are encouraged to share pictures and stories from the local area with other readers.

So far, keeping in mind that very little has been done on the marketing side, these portals have mostly attracted birthday greetings, pictures and notices from local event organisers. This prompted one of Journalisten's readers (I believe we were the first national news site to write about this project) to question if this was not more of a local notice board than a journalistic project, and, as such, just another clever way for a media company to make do with fewer journalists.

I posed this question to the online editor of Fredrikstads Blad, one of the newspapers trying out this solution, but he vehemently denied this and said this was just "one of many services on our site, meant to be a supplement, an additional service for our readers, not a substitute for journalism," and that he felt it added value to the news site overall.

Reader testing
The concept was launched while still in a beta-version, and to my knowledge it's still in beta, to get reader feedback while perfecting the portal. Among the early testers of the portal and its functionalities were regional newspapers Budstikka (where Edda is a minority shareholder), Drammens Tidende and Fredrikstads Blad, but the plan is to roll this out to all Edda newspapers eventually (Edda Media is mainly comprised of regional and local newspapers).

In the future, when all the testing is finished, the newspapers taking part in the pilot project hope their readers will upload reports from local sports events, interviews in text or video with local champions etc, that can also be used in the news section of the news sites, either as stand-alone features, or as part of a news story.

Origo, is a similar concept, which I've seen used by one or two newspapers associated with regional and local newspaper chain A-pressen, but I must admit I don't know a lot about this portal.

iNorden is another child of 2007. It's a completely non-commercial citizen journalism project, mostly written by bloggers, aiming to become pan-Nordic. Read more about the venture here.

For more background on the companies I mention in this post, check out this overview.


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