The Growing Need for Bloggers as Citizen Journalists

Two bits of interesting news this past month for bloggers who consider themselves journalists:

I’ve been preaching for a while that bloggers are citizen journalists. And now we get confirmation that 52% of us believe it to be true, and that 61% of Americans are possible readers. Plus — and this is a big one — the last-reported numbers from Technorati are that 77% of all Internet users read a blog of some kind.

The time is ripe for bloggers to begin thinking of themselves as citizen journalists. Social media is making it so much easier for us to not only see the news, but report it as well.

Social media is breaking the news before the news.

We’ve seen several instances where social media broke news stories before mainstream media picked it up. The three most notable examples have been:

  1. The first images coming out of Haiti were on Twitter, because mainstream media couldn’t get on the ground. People with cell phones and spotty wifi were sending photos to Twitter and Facebook, and we were spreading them around like wildfire. My family was particularly interested in one set of missionaries in Port-au-Print, and @TroyLiveSay was providing information that we weren’t getting anywhere else.
  2. Moments after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, news was spreading on Twitter before the shots had even stopped.
  3. When the US Airways flight landed in the Hudson last year, news had broken on Twitter 15 minutes before the first news reports hit the airwaves.

While none of these examples show a failing of the mainstream media, they show that in many cases, people reporting on incidents that happened nearby ended up being first just because of the widespread nature of the tools.

I’ve been playing with Posterous as a possible blogging platform for rapid response and crisis communication professionals. You email your blogs to your email address (it’s actually just, your subject line is your headline, you attach any photos, type and format your content in your text box, and voila! You’ve got a blog post sent from your smart phone.

And I totally geeked out a few days ago, when Chris Brogan showed how you can take photos on your digital camera, and immediately have them uploaded to your favorite file sharing service, with something the size of a quarter and something else the size of a pocket calculator.

My advice? If you have even the slightest inclination of being a citizen journalist, start taking your blogging seriously. You don’t have to change the scope of your blog, your writing style, or even the quality of your writing.

Just do it with intentionality. As hard as it may be to explain (this is the 6th time I’ve written this paragraph), report your news for posterity. Do it with a sense of responsibility and gravitas. When you see something happening, take photos and upload them to Flickr or Picasa. Send tweets. Email news to your blog. Be a source of information to your community. Don’t just repeat what you’ve seen, report on it.

Even something as simple as reporting a small incident you just witnessed can sometimes lead to national or even international stories, or you may be the lone voice that speaks for someone who can’t do it themselves.

While I’m not suggesting we all change our focus and become word slingers, I am suggesting we adopt the mindset that we’re just as good as the professionals who, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t as quick as the “ordinary citizens” armed with nothing more than cell phones and a serious case of Twitter-thumbs.

Related posts:
Rules for Being a Media Blogger
Defining Two Types of Crisis Communication
Five Things Newspapers Can Teach Us About Blogging
What Stylebook Should Bloggers Use?

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency He co-authored four social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (3rd ed., 2017, Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.


    1. Rodger,

      Of course, I tell people they don’t have to change their writing assuming they’re already good writers. A dangerous assumption, I’m sure.

      I agree that journalism IS a profession where people learn professional writing and story skills. But so is novel writing, public relations, and speech writing. But how many journalists become novelists and speechwriters when they clearly have not gone to an MFA, have a degree in PR, or even taken speech writing classes? Are they there because they’re good writers, and good writers can adapt to different situations?

      The same is true for real citizen journalists. The people who learn how to write effectively without a journalism degree, learn how to tell a story, how to do proper research, etc., are the ones who are going to be effective. The “market” will sort out who is going to be the good one and who is not.

      There are plenty of people who have become effective journalists without this training, and learn while they’re doing it. The readers/viewers decide whether they’re actually worth following. If they don’t write well, can’t tell a story, get facts wrong, etc., no one will read or watch. But the ones who do it well will do it as well as, or even better, than the big-J Journalists.

      To say that journalism can only be done by trained professionals limits not only people who want to become journalists, but then it must preclude journalists from ever leaving mainstream media and taking on other trained writing positions.

    2. Erik, I typically agree with you on many things, but citizen journalism is where the line must be drawn. Journalism is a profession where people learn professional writing and story-telling skills, not to mention proper research, fact-checking, and sourcing best practices that makes news, news. Wrap this in a code of ethics, and citizen journalism is unprofessional and unreliable and should be read with a healthy dose of skepticism because they practice none of the above consistantly.

      It’s not good to advise people they “don’t have to change the scope of [their] blog, [their] writing style, or even the quality of [their] writing.” Absolutely, these must change or a citizen journalist’s writing is opinion or commentary or worse — babble, not news.

      Okay, I hope these means we can still be friends :-)

    3. Truth always come from the ground and bubbles up to nourish those starved for refreshing honesty. That’s what we see in you, always have. Beautiful holiday to you and the fam Erik.


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