Citizen Journalism

Of late, we've been blogging about "citizen" professionals. We've used the term to mean people who employ their professional degrees to coach others in making contributions to the common good. Citizen professionals work within their fields, drawing on their own training and expertise, to elevate the knowledge, talents, and capacities of ordinary folks.

Citizen journalism, it seems, is a bit different. While it places similar emphasis on the knowledge of ordinary people, in this case, the citizens themselves are, or can be, the journalists.

I was reading the Minnesota Monthly magazine recently, and came across the following description of Minnesota Public Radio's "Public Insight Network:"

"Thanks to e-mail and the Internet, our radio producers and reporters can quickly find and learn from thousands of people who have experience or knowledge on a story we are covering. We call this the Public Insight Network, and it relies on people like you — our public sources. You have knowledge and insights that can help us cover the news in greater depth and uncover stories we might not otherwise find. "

Writing on the public radio site, Bob Collins explains the MPR approach: "The theory -- one I subscribe to, for the record -- is 'just plain folk' are better connected in the big scheme of things than a handful of people in a newsroom, isolated as they are from reality by both world view and geography. MPR has its Public Insight Network to break down these barriers."

Apparently, the MPR approach is just one way to engage citizens in the practice of journalism. Griff Wigley, a blogger in Northfield, Minnesota, reviews one of MPR's moderated discussions in which four distinct approaches to engaging citizens in journalistic practice were outlined:

Approach 1: the public as critic, an approach which emphasizes journalistic transparency. In this approach, the public is provided with a greater understanding of the news-gathering operation and is given opportunities to rate news stories for quality.

Approach 2: the public as collaborator, as with MPR's Public Insight Network. In this case, the public is engaged as sources for news stories.

Approach 3: the public as correspondent. News organizations turn over segments of their space to the public and let them produce content with little interference.

Approach 4: the public is the press. This approach avoids established news organizations entirely; instead, the public starts a grassroots journalism effort to provide coverage of issues otherwise ignored by the press.

What do you think about these four approaches?

And, to connect back to our previous discussions about citizen professionals, what implications does citizen journalism have for professionally-trained journalists?


This is an interesting discussion -- I guess I'm a little taken aback after listening all these years to NPR and MPR that their staff is so divorced from "reality by world view and geography." I guess I hadn't noticed. The stories I heard were intriguing and I'm not sure the guy down the street could have really given me the "scheme of things" better than professional radio journalists.

Citizen journalists do have a place in the landscape of the media. As a professional writer, I sometimes wish I had the time and income to devote to offering news for nothing.

For the purposes of your poll, approaches 2 and 3 seem reasonable. Approach 1 seems too open to politics -- I don't like a story because I don't like the opinions expressed. I think approach 4 might work but you'll need a lot of citizen journalists to pull it off and, having been a part of many organizations, trying to find good, reliable volunteers for anything can be exceptionally difficult.

But Twin Cities Planet seems to be pulling off something like approach 4, although its content does come from some professionals. I think its pretty unique and whether it is a sustaining model remains to be seen. The other two seem easier, at this point, to pull off.

Congrats on the new blog.

E-Democracy.Org and Blandin Foundation are gathering folks interested in online citizen media (journalism, social media, citizen engagement) in an online community of practice called Minnesota Voices Online:

We are also hosting an "unconference" in Duluth on Apr 3-4:

We are particularly interested in folks doing this civic work in Greater Minnesota, but metro folks are certainly welcome.

Steven Clift
(Formerly an RA with CDC 91-93)

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs