Monday, March 27, 2006

Particpatory, citizens' journalism

Last week the Belgian publisher of newspapers, magazines and books Concentra announced that it was launching the, a site for and by people living in the Belgian town Hasselt. The site is its first example of participatory journalism. The consumer is not only the source, but also the producer of the story, a spokes person said. Concentra said that it started the site as the regional section of Belang van Limburg was unable to score all the local news and put it into the regional section. Initially, the newspaper will have the site filled by 12 selected city reporters. Later on every inhabitant of Hasselt can contribute: text, photographs and movies. The site will exist next to the tip telephone lines, which Roularta started recently. The exercise is dubbed participatory journalism. The intention is to research whether there is a future in citizens’ journalism. Eventually the site should pay its own way.

There are more initiatives like around. In the Netherlands Wegener has started sites likes this in the eastern part.

A variation on this theme is the blogs started by newspapers and radio and TV stations. They start up blogs for readers, listeners and viewers. In my home town Utrecht the Utrecht radio and TV station has set up such a blog just before the municipal elections. Good timing; discussions guaranteed. For the newspapers and the RTV stations there is usually a pay–off in as far as they can publish from the blogs. So instead of the letters to the editor, they newspapers make space to publish from the blogs

Is this a contribution from online journalism to journalism in general? I am not too convinced that it will be a lasting contribution. In the first place is usually is an admission of weakness by the newspapers. The argument to start up such citizens’ site is that the regular newspapers can not cover all the regional news anymore. This is one of the arguments used by Concentra. First contribution they put on the site was photographs of carnival (Mardi Gras in New Orleans lingo) in Hasselt. Usually the editorial staff would have treated such an event by putting in one photograph. On the site they can now have many photographs and even movies, if they want to. By placing photographs and movies, they seduce people to go to the site and see whether they are in the photographs or the movies. So, it is basically marketing and not picking up news that they would have missed.

Of course these sites are moderated, usually implicitly. The site masters are not held to any accountability. So the newspaper or the RTV stations select. I think in the seventies we used the term repressive tolerance for this phenomenon.

Will it be a success? I guess I will return to issue a year from now and see whether the site still exists and whether it is a site for and by the citizen. I would be surprised if these sites have a different independent look from the newspapers and the RTV stations they stem from.

I am not saying that an independent site or blog will be a guarantee for success. In the Netherlands there is the Geen Stijl, an uncouth blog in the choice of its subjects, photographs, text and style. In fact it is a kind of anti-media blog. It has a large group of readers. But things are changing. Recently the editorial staff bought the news wire service of the national wire service ANP and the national newspaper De Telegraaf bought a minority share in the blog operation. Independence is no guarantee for success of citizens’ journalism.

Tags: ,

No comments: