so how many citizen journalists are there?

Posted on July 20, 2010


this post got me thinking abiut quantifying the potential impact of citzen journalism.

if we look at most social media, the bulk of people hardly ever contribute. now this could be cultural – i.e. new to it, or it could be a preference – they dont really want to. the same could be applied to citizen journalism, most people dont actually want to contribute and thus they wont. so what percentage? 1% of total online users (much lower than facebook) contributing stories would create almost 8 million new stories …. thats a lot of stories.

i find the concept quiet believable as news isnt just what you see on CNN, its a variety of things from varsity research to some code breakthrough. so the 1% may even be conservative in the greater scheme of news when broken down into the long tail.

the article below

Bad assumptions about the content value chain

with 3 comments

We think a lot about the “future of news” at readMedia because our clients play an important, hidden role in the news business. Two posts by smart guys from different parts of the news ecosystem got me thinking about the value chain of the news business, and how bad assumptions  about where “value” lives can lead to bad conclusions about what the new news organization looks like.

Howard Owens, founder and publisher (and most everything else) at The Batavian, just wrote about the difference between creators and consumers of news. In it, he argues that the vast majority of people are consumers of content (readers and watchers) rather than creators of content. This is in opposition to people like investor Fred Wilson and former TV Guide writer Jeff Jarvis, who both see content creation (and specifically news creation) becoming democratized to the point that citizen journalists produce the lion’s share of news content in the future. Experience and data are on Howard’s side, especially when you realize that Jarvis considers “content” to include telling people you’re going drinking at a bar.

The definition of content and an understanding of who makes it is critical to the future of the news business: somebody has to write and publish the news, right? Well, the writing and publishing (and delivery and monetization and all of that) is not just one activity. It’s a bunch of activities in a value chain, and new technologies–especially the internet–are pulling apart those activities, fast. (For a good primer on how the media business is being sliced into pieces, check out Andy Kessler’s classic Media 2.uh-oh post.)

I think “news creation” is the key here because I agree with Robert Niles that there are no new revenues for journalism, so the focus has to be on the cost side of the business. I was never a consultant, and I’m kind of lazy, so rather than paste in a graphic of the value chain of the business of news, I’ll just drill down on the editorial part–the creation of news. (I was never a journalist or editor, either):

For a long, long time, newpapers’ (and other local media) monopoly profits allowed for people-intensive, expensive processes at each point of the value chain. “News discovery” and “news reporting” came from an army of beat reporters and stringers. “News analysis”–where I’d put some of the big-think overviews of news and trends–was produced by senior writers who had grown up from the beats. “Aggregation” has always been a primary function of a news organization and I’ll talk more about that, but for here let’s just mention AP and other wire copy, comics, syndicate features, and the like. Copyediting was a huge and expensive layer in the newsroom, with some organizations largely directed and driven by the copy desk. And then finally this content must be organized in a way that’s compelling and useful to the audience AND to advertisers.

What I want to drill down on is “news discovery” and “news reporting”. That’s where important, everyday, bread-and-butter  news is created. It’s the core of value in a news organization. (Aggregation is extremely important. It’s a “value add” in the chain when done well. But note that to have a “value-add” you need to have “value” first.) And Howard is absolutely right: 90% of an audience simply wants to read the news, not write or even contribute to it (via comments, for example). Now, when you’re talking about the entire United States, giving 1% of people the ability to create and publish news online as easily as major media companies do is radical–that’s more than 3 million people publishing stories. A lot of it is bound to be good; some of it may even be “news discovery” or “news reporting”. It’s easy to see that TV news criticism, for example, is not rocket science and need not be done by professionals. But when you scale down to a city or town, 1% of the population doesn’t add up to much, and the chance of that content replacing the news content created by someone paid to do it is slim. Very, very slim.

So it’s those assumptions about who will discover and report on news, and how many people there really are to do it, that lead to some naive conclusions about the future of local news. News will not be spontaneously created by a community, and then curated by an aggregator who adds value. There really is a risk about who or what replaces the traditional newsgathering function.

But there’s another bad assumption about the news content value chain that most people don’t even see, much less debate. And getting that fixed leads to a more hopeful view of how a new news organization can work.

Most people in and outside of news organizations believe that “news discovery” and “news reporting” have, and will be, created out of whole cloth by either professional journalists or the new citizen journalism. But the fact is that a huge proportion of news–especially local news–originates not from journalists discovering the news, but from the organizations in the community telling the media about it. Meaning: the reporter got a press release.

Consider that a recent Pew Research Center study showed that 72% of the news stories they studied “originated” from government or colleges–only 12% from citizens, and 15% from original reporting. readMedia’s own research confirms this: in an analysis we conducted earlier this year, we saw that 50% of local news stories in 5 daily newspapers originated directly from a press release sent by the organization that was the subject of the story.

I don’t think this is bad. I think that there’s a huge opportunity for news organizations to focus more of their efforts on news aggregation and curation and value-added interrogation of the content produced by local government, business and citizens by treating the press releases of local organizations as high quality user generated content.

This brings me to the estimable Ike Pigott, whose post yesterday on the Future of Journalism points the way to a world where black is white, up is down, there are dogs and cats living together and journalism stops treating PR like a late-night booty call:

The embeds of the future will work for the company, and be paid by the company to provide news about the company in a multitude of formats. Print, newsletter, video, blog, podcast, moving billboards, tattoos — whatever it takes. Because the bits and pieces of Corporate America that have a story to tell will still have their stories – just no ready outlets.

How is this different than what you have today? Surely there are corporate PR departments and external agencies already doing these things, right?


What is required is an internal producer who writes in external voice — like the neutral point-of-view so often described by Wikipedia. People can smell marketing and propaganda coming around the corner, and they know when the pitches and puff pieces are missing that edge of neutrality. An accurate and fair piece is accurate and fair, no matter who writes it.

The current newsrooms of record will find their roles specializing even further. Where they have already ceded the “hunt-and-gather” function, they will soon cede some of the writing function. Why bother spending the man-hours to reconstruct a perfectly balanced wheel? It rolls just the same, and since it was likely written by an Embedded Journalist (who just happens to be employed by the company or trade organization,) it will carry the style, tone and quality that news consumers expect.

The remaining journalists will build their utility around curating, aggregating and delivery. They will be the line of defense that says “This story from ACME stinks to high heaven, and I will blast them for their inaccuracy.” They will be well within their rights to do so, and in some cases they may have no choice.

Like Ike said, is this a perfect world for journalism and news (or even PR)? No. The best news organizations will still have people like Howard Owens who know their territory, develop relationships with sources and their audience, and who have the news judgment and ability to both create and curate news content of value. But a news ecosystem that recognizes what non-news organizations themselves can contribute is a pragmatic one, and a practical one, and one that allows news organizations to continue to bring valuable information to their audiences from some of the few people who are really content creators.

Posted in: Uncategorized