On being a citizen reporter: an international perspective, part VIII

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This was a presentation by Erik Larsen, CEO of Danish citizen reporter site Flix.dk, at the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum held in Seoul, Korea on July 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest International Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

Erik Larsen, CEO of Flix.dk (Denmark)

Flix is a very different story than Scoop (see part VII). Erik is a professional writer by training and is as interested in storytelling as news reporting. Flix began in 2003 as an experimental site developed on a personal server in his apartment and grew from there. Startup cost for software was — zero, due to its being based upon an open source software for editorial collaboration.

Erik first heard of OhmyNews from an article in Wired magazine. As reported in other presentations at this conference, OhmyNews was the model Flix used when creating their citizen reporter site.

After establishing Flix as a prototype and spreading word of its presence, the response was wonderful, with inquires coming in from all over Denmark. The competition between traditional news outlets in Danish media is very high, but Flix does not consider them competitors because telling news stories in a traditional mode is not Flix’s niche.

Erik and his collaborators want to employ both sound journalistic practices and user-centered content. To achieve this they coach citizen reporters to become better writers. They also encourage the sharing of peer knowledge between reporters. They hoped this would result in higher accuracy of information, greater transparency, a more democratic environment and a change of world view.
So far it’s working.

At first they were little more than a newsletter sent to 75 people — mostly colleagues, friends and family. They watched the Danish weblog community closely, inviting talented writers and watching for interesting stories. Word spread quickly through personal contacts. On Nov 5, 2003 they officially launched.

Early in 2004 Flix helped the cause of a blogger being pressured by antipiracy lawyers. They championed the case and brought it to the attention of the established media. It ended in a live radio show on national radio where the blogger Mr. Back (it was known as the Keld-Back case) was given an apology by the Danish Antipiracy Group that had formerly accused him. It was great exposure for Flix and gave them tremendous respect in the blogosphere.

Another boost was an article on graffiti in Copenhagen. It created a boom in readers from graffiti societies from all over the world. Until then they didn’t know exactly who their audience was or who it impacted. It was their first encounter with the viral effect of online news distribution.

Flix is steadily building a core of enthusiastic citizen reporters who have been the driving force behind the creation of content. They have also had stories first appearing there in Flix and later appearing on national television. They are proud to have been the first media outlet publishing stories about the poor treatment of Muslims in Denmark, a topic underreported in the traditional media outlets.

What are their challenges? Danes are individualistic. So some would ask why not just start your own weblog and not write for a citizen journalism site? One answer is the increased readership experienced by reporters writing for Flix.

If increased readership is your goal you could just write for traditional media as opportunities for citizen reporters open up within these legacy media outlets. However, Erik’s colleagues at Flix have found that even when traditional media employs citizen reporters to provide content, the traditional media outlets maintain their legacy focus. Stories submitted are often selectively picked over for the more sensational news or the emphasis of stories is twisted from the original intent of the citizen reporter.

The technical challenges ahead for Flix are huge. They are growing to the point of technical breakdown. A very popular story recently killed their server, completely bogging it down. Finding partners and funding for technical and editorial expansion remains a serious challenge.

Another challenge for them is their full-time staff being picked over by traditional media headhunters. What they find is that many of their staff tend to be part-time with them and part-time in traditional media.

©2006 Gregory Daigle

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