Citizen journalism - it’s one of the hottest buzzwords in the news business these days.
Today, audiences want news at the time they want it, on the platform most convenient to them, tailored around the subjects they find most appealing. And with platforms like Twitter, audiences even have the power to choose exactly how, and from whom, they get it.
This leaves journalists and everybody in the world of media facing a big challenge - how do we maintain our relationships with our audiences, who are now more than capable of getting news on their own? The answer is simple - we accept that news is no longer a one way conversation. It is an interactive dialogue with the people closest to the issues at hand.
The term citizen journalism covers a range of forms. Most people do it everyday, just by commenting on an article they read. Many large media sites, such as the Denver Post, have successfully incorporated citizen journalism by providing the public with a separate space in which to voice their opinions in any way and form they are comfortable with.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that citizen journalists, no matter how passionate, are still only volunteers, so they may not be able to provide reliable news consistently. Most news websites that have used citizen bloggers report that the blogs tend to be short-lived; starting out strong is common, followed by less-frequent posting, then complete inactivity. Paying citizen bloggers — even if it’s a token amount, or in the form of prizes or “goodies” — might help to alleviate this problem.
One of the greatest moments for citizen journalism was undoubtedly the rapid rise of the Arab Spring. Hundreds of citizens, previously just average users of the Internet, were now harnessing its power to use as a tool to share their struggle with people around the world.
This kind of citizen journalism is what inspired Mark Malkoun, of Lebanon, to create an app called Signal, designed to try and harness the power of the united public. In the Middle East, censorship is widespread and every news channel is closely affiliated with a political party. Malkoun wanted to create a medium through which the people of a place could provide real news, unbounded by any restrictions.
Signal allows its users to upload photos or short headlines along with a geotag of their location to share with others. Anybody can submit their stories or pictures, with content instantly uploaded and organized under one title, with the time and location automatically registered. According to Malkoun, the genius of Signal is that users can rate what they think are the most important stories at a particular time. Thus, stories will be displayed in terms of importance and timeliness, making for an uncluttered feed, updated in real time.
While the user rating system is akin to that of many social networks, Signal is meant to remain an alternative to any other serious news outlet, imitating the form of an easy to use newsfeed, without the useless social updates from friends. Another important difference between Signal and Twitter, however, is that Twitter doesn’t provide information from anybody a user doesn’t follow, thus making it more useful for people who want to keep up to date with their favorite brands or celebrities. Signal provides users with all updates and, using its geotagging feature, informs them about newsworthy moments that are happening near them.
Citizen journalism works, and we are seeing its tremendous effect on existing social networks. That being said, verification and quality control are very important, and one of the things we do is rely on images more than texts, and all images are less than 72 hours old and geo-tagged, which means that this information is being taken directly from the device to avoid any human error.
The free application will be available at Apple’s store online in late November.