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Citizen Journalism/Notes

From Wikimania

Notes from the sessions during the Citizen Journalism unconference.

Placeblogs - Lisa Williams

Placeblogs are exploding, but few people know about them. There is a list of about 300 placeblogs, thinks there are more than 1,000. A ciriticism is that it's "minor," when they're really about the lived experience of a place. Attention will fall on stuff that newspapers cover, but in general there is not necessarily a lot of overlap between them. The subject matter of a placeblog is often what never appears in the newspaper. Need to defend that stuff...it's part of the conversation they have about their place.

Running list of placeblogs

  • Buffalo Rising (NY)
  • DC Blogs (DC)
  • Edhat (Santa Barbara, CA)

Types of placeblogs

  • Solo operator: LA Observed, AnnArborIsOverrated.com
  • Group: Baristanet, Philbrick James Forum, New Haven Independent, Westport Now, PotreroHillSF, Gotham Gazette
  • Community: iBrattleboro, Universal Hub, Didjuneau?, Buffalo Rising
  • Network
  • Filter
  • Aggregators
  • Professional
  • Political/statehousse
  • Spam placeblogs

Majority are in midsize cities, 20-70,000 population.

Private equity investors are strip-mining local media

Chains. Local media sell out to private equity investor, make a mini-mogul out of yourself. They're looking for a payout in 3-7 years. Private ownership isn't necessarily much better than public. People say bloggers can't compete with newspapers because they don't have the resources. I'm not outnumbered by my local newspaper. It only has one reporter.

Americans like to live in places where there isn't any "news"

"If there's a story on Arsenal Street, we'll cover it." -- Boston Globe

"I like how they put in that big arros, as if to prove to us that they do, in fact, know where Arsenal Street is."

We still have this appetite to talk to each other. After 6 or 7 days of reading the Globe and not finding anything about your town, you lose interest.

Thinking about placeblogs

.72% of Wikipedia readers become contributors

If you start a placeblog, you should expect to work on it by yourself for about a year. "Civicsnerds."

Almost everybody has a librarian contributor.

Lessons from shuttered placeblogs

  • Examples:
    • The Alaska Blog
    • Fayettevilleblog.com
  • Many people still believe in the web as a place of "magical work creation"
  • In the corporate world, this fantasy is called "user generated content"

Problems facing Placeblogs

  • Mismatch between locales with low-enough competittion from traditional media and locales with enough scale to create a natural pool of participants

Technologies that placeblogs need

I think this would change if we had better geolocation technology.

  • Autodiscovery of blogs and blog posts via location
  • Plugins for one-off advertising
  • Lightweight, distributed directory technology
  • Going beyond reverse chronology

Q: (Yahoo) Folks should think more about the classification put forward. The more they can do with tagging and metadata to surface, classify and point people to these things.

Lisa: "country correspondence" was like "gardening barbed wire." Somewhere in all of this, journalists' conception of themselves changed.

Q: (Robert Winters) If you're living in Cambridge and living on the shoulder of Boston, the typical local will be picking up the Globe or the NYT. But if you go further out, it's more likely that people will be interested in the local paper. There is a symbiotic relationship between local blogs and the local paper.

A: First Suburbs study (report?). It's the worst spot for media if you can see the skyline.


A: I could get off my back end and do the unfun work of finding advertisers. I think the thing underneath your organizations is, will they be around if they don't make money? What lasts for a hundred years? They're not businesses. They're voluntary organizations. My crackpot idea is for this to be around after I die. Adding a lot of advertisers and costs to this may make it less successful.

Q: (Westport Now) I'm troubled a little bit by the term "citizen media." Westport has coverage of topics like a schoolteacher who was fired, and people are protesting. One of our most popular features is "teardown of the day," which evaluates property values, property transfers. One of the best ways to go is to mix pros with non-pros. Westport Now shows up in Google, while the papers don't.

Podcast of session

Toolset-Andrew Lih


  • podcasting
    • vlogging
    • rocketboom
  • blogs
    • blogger
    • livejournal
    • myspace
  • p2p communication
    • VOIP
    • Videoconf
    • skype
    • skypecast
  • p2p distribution
    • bittorrent
    • pplive
  • cms
    • drupal
    • mambo/joomla
    • scoop
  • radical inclusion
  • rss
  • user contributions
  • social software
  • solid state recording
  • cheap


  • news/media gathering
  • content editing/filtering
  • distribution

tor.eff.org allows people to write online anonymously

(Dan Bricklin) I think of newspapers, blogs, books. One of the reasons for the name of Aldus was there was a guy who figured out how to make the book work: right size, page numbers. As we ended up with the blog, we had personal websites for many years before blogs, but they sort of died, until people figured out that it was important to automatically make it easy to do reverse chronological, to put in the title, the date and time, and the permalink. The wiki, which is different, had simple markup; the ability to put in headings easily; and a history for each page; and a way to create a page before you wrote it. So what primitives do we need to have for citizen journalism?

Some of it is very bursty. Someone doesn't mean to be a journalist, but they happen to be at the right place at the right time. Those people became citizen journalists in a way. How do we make it possible for that stuff to show up in the right place? How do we handle the diversity?

(Ethan Zuckerman) The folks who are involved with this movement now are not necessarily the most important folks to be involved in this movement. The vast majority of us have laptops, broadband internet, ... and the things that happen in our lives are a lot less interesting. The people who are going to be using the tools of citizen media are going to be using very different interfaces than we are using. Today we're thinking about this as based around a laptop. That's all fantastic, but to actually get this out to transform journalism as we know it and touch people outside the developed world, we're going to have to think seriously about how we get outside the devices and paradigms that we're used to using. I have been urging people to think about how you can turn a telephone into something that makes you a reporter? And how do you build that into radio broadcasts.

A primitive we need to deal with is being able to choose a common tag so we know what to deal with. The digital equivalent of an "assignment editor."

The tool I want is an easy way to put together an anthology of what happened that day. You also need a person to do that.

Micah Sifry: Content and tools. We want to get everyone's ideas about what we should be doing. One problem is just access to information. There's a lot of stuff that his hidden in plain view. It's disclosed, but filed in paper, so you can't get to it unless you want to wade through thousands of PDFs. Another example: You can't get specific information about all federal contracts. It's a database that will be available to the public in another month. We're looking for, "what other kinds of content would people like to have at their fingertips?"

Tools: We're working on trying to invent some simple-to-use tools that will help bloggers and citizen journalists do what they do. The "pop-up politician."

(Erik Moeller, WikiNews) We have two layers: gathering of facts, but the actual editing is always going to be a smaller subset of people who have the skills. We have experimented with collaborative editing, such as SubEthaEdit. The technology is not yet mature enough. Video aggregation: a method of letting people submit their videos with their stories of what's happening in the U.S. Then you'd have a process by which they all come together, segmenting, aggregating them into a larger feature like a documentary.

Jay Rosen has started a project called "new assignment.net" that will pay citizen journalists to work on some larger projects.

(Andy Carvin) Video: There are some crude ways to do it, like tagging videos. It's not very elegant, but it does work. We're omitting SMS. It's critically important in other countries.

(Chris Messina) There's a tool called DemocracyPlayer. One of my clients has built SMS Flashgroups. You just text join and a keyword, and anyone else who joins can have a mailing. Tagspace. Push on the flock folks to continue doing that for a large audience. Castlife ... mentioned Kent Bye's Echo Chamber Project.

Want to see translation tools, other languages.

We need tools to make tools.

Podcast of session

Multimedia - Steve Garfield

Podcast of session

Filling gaps - Tom Stites

Relevant links

Podcast of session

Law - Phil Malone

Relevant links

Podcast of session

Being heard - Ethan Zuckerman

Wrap up

See also: Doc Searls outline notes

Doc Searls outline notes of each session