On Being a Citizen Reporter: an International Perspective


The following is a series of presentations made during the OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters’ Forum in Seoul, Korea on July 14 and 15. OhmyNews is one of the first and largest Web sites for citizen journalism, the same citizen-driven content that fuels the Twin Cities Daily Planet.

The experiences of the reporters (some use the term journalist) are varied and represent a wide range of international experiences. They have come to Seoul to meet other citizen reporters and to hear about other efforts across the globe to organize and give voice to citizen media.

The presentations reported on in this series include:

Dan Gillmor, Director, Center for Citizen Media
Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist.org
J.D. Lasica, founder of Ourmedia.com
Bryan Nunez, Technology Manager of Witness.org
Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of GlobalVoices online
Susan DeFife, CEO of Backfence.com
Michael Weiss, co-founder of Scoop.co.il (Israel)
Erik Larsen, CEO of Flix.dk (Denmark)
Ramzy Baroud, editor-in-chief, The Palestine Chronicle

Dan Gillmor, Director, Center for Citizen Media, an affiliate of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard University Law School.

Today’s Web is a read-write media, composed not just of blogs (though they are getting most of press) but also videos, podcasts, SMS, mashups and more.

It’s not just the technology. Principles of journalism still matter: thoroughness, accuracy, fairness independence, and transparency. Anyone could create their own news report. The Daily Me could be a news site written by your the way you want it. But that would be a singular viewpoint.

Its about Wisdom of Crowd. We upload and create information. We blog, We explain. We annotate the Web. We discuss (argue, really). We are neighbors. We tell stories. And as a result — communities are created.

Podcasts and live uplinks via cell nets have take the place of video satellite uplinks. Such citizen media has captured tidal waves and riots, things that professionals usually report on after they have occurred. So citizen media is ubiquitous and immediate.

The next Web is an alphabet soup of RSS, OPML, API, etc. Is it Web 2.0 or is it now 2.5? Or 3.0? Whichever it is, users will collect information and mash-it-up with other information. You can do this with syndicated feeds, known as RSS. The fact is that any blog can be a feed. OhmyNews is now an RSS feed on the international Herald Tribune. RSS is also adaptable. Dan even has an RSS reader on his phone. So you don’t need to create special Web sites for feeds when you have mobile readers.

OPML part of this “soup” presenting a reading list of what we’re currently reading. Put together those lists and you have created a larger community of what people are reading. It’s a great tool for sharing information collectively.

New interfaces allow for mashups of data archives and the Web. For example, the Boston subway map is available as a mashup allowing you to input and find specific addresses, show locations of hotels, even connections to the subway map. Or use mashup Platial (not available yet) to annotate maps with text or graphics. We should encourage journalists to use these technologies for the things that they do best.

Mashups are also about putting media together like video and politics. Read My Lips is a site that edits videos with political commentary since political commentary is part of journalism. Modifying and repurposing video is a native form of media for people who grew up with digital video media. Part of the future of journalism will be to encourage the mashups that people are inventing.

In the world of the Web lies and unintentional mistruths travel faster and more widely than truth. Dan gave the example of how just one site on Wikipedia changed over time. Over two years it showed massive changes, but those changes were easy to overlook until it was conveyed in a playback slideshow known as a screencast. Then the changes and counter changes became very evident. The Internet allows users to correct bad information, but we need better tools to more visibly portray those corrections.

What to do when there is too much information? Use filters. Technorati is one site for tracking blogs. You can also go to www.memeorandum to help sort through all the blogs. But pretty soon we will have more personalized sites where we both choose what feeds to dip into and what communities to be part of.

Today we have Newsvine and Digg to tell others in our communities what we find important or interesting. Users vote on what stories catch their eye. So the community votes on what is more important, or, most popular. This is a good first step but it will also be important to add ways to gauge the reputation of voters before we can believe that the votes are not rigged in some way.

What we now have is content, easy to manipulate, upload and discoverable. We need to add to that the dimension of why it’s important to know and care about that content.

Technology is advancing through chips, media acquisition tools, mashups. But we also need better conversation tools, ways to find news, create mixed media content and tie it all into meaningful metadata that can track and relate content.