Tag Archives: citizen journalism

How Portuguese News Websites (don’t) use Citizen Journalism (2008)


Rummaging through old files I came across with the most interesting stuff: almost exactly 4 years ago I wrote this. It reminded me of a debate I participated this week.

(It was published here and here)

Not much has changed. Or did it?


Ao remexer em pastas antigas, encontrei algumas coisas interessantes: há quase exactamente 4 anos escrevi isto.Lembrou-me de um debate em que participei esta semana.

(Foi publicado aqui e aqui)

Pouco mudou entretanto. Ou mudou?


We’ve been watching a significant change in the Portuguese news media, for the last few years. From national to local newspapers, radios and TV channels, everyone is building their presence online, with more or less aptitude or quality. Still, the effort is noticeable.

But this investment in new platforms of communication doesn’t mean the companies are following the latest trends, or leaving their somewhat conservative approach to the full possibilities of the web. The news websites in Portugal are mostly a repository for print content, since many don’t have exclusively online journalists, and the resources for online content are rather limited, especially as multimedia content is concerned, though slowly the tide is turning, mainly due to the efforts of major newspapers, that are trying to improve and take the step forward in online content.

This scenario, of slow and uneven development of new media content, is useful to explain why the interactivity between media and users is practically inexistent. Many still don’t grasp the concept of participative/citizen journalism and community, but companies and newsroom managements aren’t the only ones to blame, since there are other factors to consider:

– Portugal has a low newspaper reading index, and despite an increase in the last years, it is still one of the lowest in Europe;

– the Portuguese, as a people, usually aren’t civically engaged;

– journalists, as a class, are quite protective about their job;

– there is no specific training for professional journalists regarding community management, content moderation, outsourced content;

So, if news information still runs downriver, it’s because there’s not only a structural problem, but also a passive-aggressive attitude towards citizen journalism: passive on the citizen part, aggressive on the journalists’ that defend their status as news bearers with tooth and nail, even if most don’t take any effort to understand the new reality.

To vouch for these changes and current mindset, I created a small survey in which I was trying to understand the conditions and openness of online media to citizen contribution. It was divided in 4 parts: company characteristics, main types of content and sources, forms of user participation, and a short opinion on citizen journalism. This survey was sent to about 50 newspapers, TV and radios with online news features, sizing from national media groups to local companies. The response was baffling.

A quarter of the email addresses available for contact with the website or newsroom’s management were useless, and even after further attempts inviting the remaining ones that worked, only four companies replied and filled out the form. The results are, therefore, inconclusive. But this is a good example to show how receptive most newsrooms and companies are to outside stimulation, even if it wasn’t only for the fact that the ones that replied are amongst those who are working to develop their presence online, in a well thought, sustainable way, and embracing the new challenges posed by hyper-communication, while the vast majority is selling pig in a poke.

Anyway, these were the results: two newspapers – one national, the other local – one online news outlet and a TV channel answered to the survey. The local newspaper was the less resourceful, with no exclusively online journalists, against the online outlet who has over 30 workers. The local newspaper had a 30 to 50 thousand visits, against the over 330 thousand claimed by the TV channel’s online newsroom. All of them prioritized text over video, audio and photography, being video the less used format, except on the TV website, for obvious reasons. None of them used citizen or users as a source, sticking to the journalists’ investigation and agencies feed, although users’ images and videos were welcome. All of them are expecting to open their website to further user collaboration, and when asked about the future of citizen journalism, the best answer was “interactivity is one of the factors that increases the number of visits,(…) and the visibility and acknowledgement of the brand”. This line of thought is still a needle in the Portuguese news haystack.

The most recent reports on citizen journalism in the USA (State of the News Media 2008) show a decrease in user’s participation, though there are new websites and features popping up everyday, appealing to news readers to develop contents and create a tighter relationship with the online editions. In Portugal, all the news related to media websites development is announcing more multimedia and interactive features, for a broadband usage: more video, more comments, more space for users’ opinions and input. With very few notable exceptions, nothing is really changing; the main difference now is that the contributions accepted by media companies are now being sent over the internet, instead of regular mail, like it happened for decades.

Portuguese users are actively creating own media, like blogs and podcasts, and commenting on the news websites, or sending small videos and pictures is still enough for most of them. And on the day I’m writing this, Público presented a feature, that links a news article to the blogs that refer to it, which may mean that the future is not necessarily in the embedding of citizen content, but by promoting the exchange of contents between corporate and citizen media.  But, apart from those small advances to integrate users in the building of the news landscape, there is nothing we may call as citizen journalism in Portugal.

The reasons to proclaim citizen journalism as a part of the future of news media may be honest or pure marketing, but the fact is that it doesn’t rely solely on the companies shoulders. The main promoters of this movement must be the citizens themselves, and they should be the leading force in changing the face of corporate news, recreating the agenda setting, humanizing and lending depth to news content. The media outlets just have to be ready to accept that.





Changes in the Paradigm: from Citizen Journalism to Social Journalism

Citizen Journalism has always caused some stir: it’s hard to define, some academics and professionals do not consider it to be “real” journalism, yet it has been the source for breaking stories and mainstream media companies have been leeching on it. But Citizen Journalism – if there was ever one -has changed to something more complex and even harder to tackle: Social Journalism.

First of all, I have to make a distinction between the production of content and it’s distribution. Journalism is production, and now its distribution is made through new channels, mainly social networks. The issue here is that users add content while they distribute it, and that contribution can or can not be journalistic. For example, when I covered the Madeira floods, I used content I thought it had journalistic value, like videos and information about missing people, closed roads, isolated villages and overall damage. All the content was being created and shared online by common citizens on their social networks, like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. And this is where the unstable paradigm of Citizen Journalism breaks to give way to Social Journalism.

In my former blog I jotted down a set of characteristics for Citizen Journalism:

  • It’s casual, whoever practices the journalistic act can do it only once in a lifetime.
  • It is mainly spontaneous, not dependant of an incumbency or professional obligation. It can be provoked by opportunity, personal need or social responsibility.
  • It is disorganized/not sistematic – this can happen in more or less degree, specializing in a job implies the learning of a method, that the citizen journalist may or may not master.
  • It is related to the surrounding reality of the citizen journalist, whether it is in a geographical level, emotional, cultural, therefore there is a certain amount of partiality (but like we’ve seen before, impartiality doesn’t not objectively exist in traditional journalism).
  • It doesn’t follow the mainstream news agenda. Apart from calamities, terrorist attacks, or other high profile events, Citizen Journalism tends to reflect realities, subjects, or perspectives absent from the mainstream media coverage.
  • It can be done by people who have a greater specific knowledge about a given subject than a journalist (which happens frequently, one can’t just know about everything).
  • The purpose is not any sort of remuneration but simply the act of information. (this can change)

But today I was reading this very interesting post by Joanna McNurlen that gave me a new perspective and raises some interesting questions:

Certain amateur new media users walk a similar path. They take photos and videos that instantly upload to the Internet, they use GPS software to track and broadcast their locations, and they tweet about everything they experience. The new media call these tech-savvy people “journalists,” but without the old connotation of the term. These so-called journalists do not investigate stories but merely broadcast experiences. They work as transmitters, publicizing their experiences with neither critique nor analysis. In doing so, they invite critique and analysis from other sources, which poses a problem.

“Experience broadcasting”. Now there’s a spot on concept. If you read the whole post, you’ll see she starts with the uploading of content to social networks, and then takes a turn to Baudrillard’s concept of simulacra, which in simple terms means we work with flawed representations of reality, and build new representations of it every time we relay our own view on it. This has always happened, and photography as one of the noble arts of journalism has always faced that problem: it captures in frame a slice of reality to show the core of that reality. Of course, many times it overlooked what was outside the frame for dramatic effect.

I remember thinking when I was a doing my first newsroom internship – in the last years of the last century – how little the audience gets from the actual reality of the news. A journalist has a backstage pass to reality, but it does not interfere (ideally) with the show, but neither gets the audience’s perspective. We see the actors before the makeup, the ropes and strings holding the set specifically built to maximize the visual effect for the audience, the marks on the floor and all. We do not report on that because that’s not the news. The show itself is, but we use that privileged position to account on it, and that was the power of the journalist: access.

But things changed and now reality and it’s slices and representations are in the middle of a virtual social arena, and the audience is part of it, surrounds it, builds and rebuilds that reality. When Haiti was hit by an earthquake six months ago most of the information was “broadcast” by people who lived it. They shared pictures, video, others outside the country managed to create maps with the information available, Google changed their own maps to show the degree of devastation. Google is not a news company, but knows the value and the need  users had for that information. Google thought in “Social” terms, like the ones who kept tweeting and posting content on Facebook, and sharing those snippets of journalism-unmediated reality online.

So the change goes like this: with Citizen Journalism, users created content (in different levels of complexity and depth), shared it; in Social Journalism users broadcast experiences or echo other people’s experiences by adding their own content to them and re-distributing it, and in some cases, that can be classified as journalism. Corporate media is already tapping social networks for stories and they have to do so or they’ll miss out on a huge amount of stories. And if you think broadcasting experiences is not journalism, well, take a look at this:

Hindenburg Disaster

We always had experiences broadcast by media, now many experiences are broadcast by users. The middle man (the journalist) is off the circuit between event and audience, but it’s not out of the loop. A huge part of journalist’s work these days is to validate the information, repurpose it  for an audience that is willing to build on it, and create context. But context is for another post.

Though media companies still ask their audience to become “citizen journalists” and profit from user generated content (UGC), I believe that things are changing to something more interesting: UGC turns into Social Generated Content as users post their experiences in social networks and think only about their connected peers, and not the local newspaper or radio station. This new “ParaMedia” phenomenon includes Meta and Hyper Media, but most important of all, it defines what social media is all about: sharing.

And you can share your thoughts with the rest of us. You probably saw this on Twitter, Facebook, Delicious, FriendFeed, your RSS reader of choice, so what do you make of it? Can personal snippets on reality be considered as journalism? Was journalism a corporate aggregator of reality slices? Where does journalism must evolve to deal with Social Generated Content?

MAYOMO.COM: Citizen Journalism in a map | Jornalismo do cidadão no mapa

Iran Protest @ MaYoMo | Os protestos no Irão @ MaYoMo
Iran Protests @ MaYoMo | Os protestos no Irão @ MaYoMo

There is a new website dedicated to user generated content. The name is MaYoMo, and basically pushes users videos into a map. MaYoMo has been around for a while, but they are launching today their new media platform and website.

At the same time they are calling all Journalism students and freelancers to show off their work in the platform and define it “as an outlet for students to post breaking local news stories in their own cities or regions, and news-analysis and commentary on broader global news and issues.

According to the press releaseaccess to all content on the MaYoMo web site is free. Students can easily create an account, and start contributing content and uploading photos, video, and other media assets — from a variety of devices, including video-enabled phones.” But it has a shared advertising revenue model, that creates “income opportunities for professional and student journalists around the world.

Besides the geolocation options, there is another interesting feature: the time window selection, since we can select videos within a determined period of time, which is good if you’re interested in specific ongoing events like the riots in Iran two months ago.

Há um novo site dedicado a conteúdos criados por utilizadores. O nome é MaYoMo, e basicamente coloca videos num mapa. O MaYoMo já existe há algum tempo, mas lançam hoje a sua nova plataforma de media e o seu site renovado.

Ao mesmo tempo eles apelam aos estudantes de Jornalismo e freelancers para mostrarem o seu trabalho na plataforma e definem-na “como uma montra para estudantes mostrarem notícias de última hora sobre as suas próprias cidades ou regiões, e análises noticiosas e comentários em assuntos  e notícias globais“.

De acordo com o press-releaseo acesso a todos os conteúdos no site do MaYoMo é grátis. Os estudantes podem facilmente criar uma conta e começar a contribuir com conteúdos e colocar fotos, videos e outros formatos de media – a partir de uma variedade de dispositivos como telefones com video.” Mas tem um modelo de partilha de recietas de publicidade, que cria “possibilidades de receita para conteúdos de profissionais e estudantes do mundo inteiro.

Para além do mapa, existe outra opção interessante: a janela temporal, já que podemos escolher videos dentro de um determinado período de tempo, o que ajuda se estivermos à procura de acontecimentos específicos que se desenrolaram por alguns dias, como as manifestações no Irão há dois meses atrás.

via Paul Bradshaw