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Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de

Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de



Paper presented at Future of Journalism conference, Cardiff, 9-10 Sep. 2009. ...

Paper presented at Future of Journalism conference, Cardiff, 9-10 Sep. 2009.


Much recent research into citizen journalism has focussed on its role in political debate and deliberation, especially in the context of recent general elections in the United States and elsewhere. Such research examines important questions about citizen participation in democratic processes – however, it perhaps places undue focus on only one area of journalistic coverage, and presents a challenge which only a small number of citizen journalism projects can realistically hope to meet.

A greater opportunity for broad-based citizen involvement in journalistic activities may lie outside of politics, in the coverage of everyday community life. A leading exponent of this approach is the German-based citizen journalism Website myHeimat.de, which provides a nationwide platform for participants to contribute reports about events in their community. myHeimat takes a hyperlocal approach but also allows for content aggregation on specific topics across multiple local communities; Hannover-based newspaper publishing house Madsack has recently acquired a stake in the project.

myHeimat has been particularly successful in a number of rural and regional areas where strong offline community ties already exist; in several of its most active regions, myHeimat and its commercial partners now also produce monthly print magazines republishing the best of the user-generated content by local contributors, which are distributed to households free of charge or included as inserts in local newspapers. Additionally, the myHeimat publishing platform has also been utilised as the basis for a new ‘participatory newspaper’ project, independently of the myHeimat Website: since mid-September 2008, the Gießener Zeitung has been published as both a twice-weekly newspaper and a continuously updated news site which draws on both staff and citizen journalist contributors.

Drawing on extensive interviews with myHeimat CEO Martin Huber and Madsack newspaper editors Peter Taubald and Clemens Wlokas during October 2008, this paper analyses the myHeimat project and examines its applicability beyond rural and regional areas in Germany; it investigates the question of what role citizen journalism may play beyond the political realm.



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Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de Presentation Transcript

  • Citizen Journalism and Everyday Life: A Case Study of Germany’s myHeimat.de Dr Axel Bruns Associate Professor ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation Creative Industries Faculty Queensland University of Technology [email_address] http://snurb.info/ – http://produsage.org/
  • Citizen Journalism
    • Are we looking in the right place?
      • Much academic and industry interest
      • Focus still mainly on US/UK developments
      • Narrow definition of journalism, focus on ‘hard’ news
      • Citizen journalism for ‘political junkies’ only
    • What else is there?
      • Citizen journalism elsewhere in the world (Korea, Middle East, non-Anglo world)
      • Citizen journalism outside of blogs and CMSs ( Twitter , YouTube , Flickr , …)
      • Citizen journalism beyond ‘hard’ news (hyperlocal/community news, photojournalism, specialist news)
  • Hannover Region Munich / Augsburg Region
  • myHeimat.de
    • Platform:
      • Available throughout Germany, operated by Gogol Medien
      • Users see news from their neighbourhood first (but are able to search for other regions, or by topic)
      • ~20,000 users (as of late 2008)
      • ~90-95% of users registered using real names
      • Strong take-up especially in regional / rural Germany (30m Germans in cities below 30,000 inhabitants)
      • Text, photo, and video content
      • Print publications:
        • best user-generated material in most active myHeimat regions (Augsburg / Munich, Hannover, …)
        • stand-alone or in partnership with regional newspapers (newspaper publisher Madsack now company stakeholder)
  • myHeimat as Community News
    • Focus on everyday life:
      • “ We have discovered that it’s often those themes which are simple, but relevant to everyday life, which are crucial to people in the region, and so ultimately we have a very user‐oriented approach. … We don’t so much have a journalistic perspective, under an assumption that we know what is of interest to the people, but we trust in the fact that the wisdom of the many, in the respective regions …, will know best what is relevant.”
      • (Martin Huber, CEO Gogol Medien)
      • Political topics addressed infrequently, if of local relevance
      • Very limited journalistic agenda setting by site operators
      • Supportive environment, even for controversial topics ( Tageszeitung : ‘ heile-welt.de ’ – ‘wholesome-world.de’)
  • News without Journalists?
    • myHeimat ’s origins:
      • Initiated by Augsburg IT company Gogol Medien
      • Initially no involvement by journalists
        • “ we merely offer a platform which provides for elegant community exchange” (Huber)
      • Simple steps towards user participation
        • “ You have to set a very low threshold, so that users don’t need to start with a contribution consisting of a page of text – plus ten images, ready to print with a gripping headline.” (Huber)
        • “ People begin with a snapshot, with an impression, with an image, and then step by step learn to operate [the system] and gain confidence.” (Huber)
      • Gradual development of shared community rules and values
        • “ the community’s self‐cleaning powers come into force, and more and more controversial topics can be dealt with” (Huber)
  • Local Community Online
    • Very limited need for top-down moderation:
      • Unwritten convention to use real names (90-95% of users comply)
      • “ There’s a possibility in the regional community, when you’re stepping outside your door in the real world, that you’re confronted with [the things you’ve written], and have to stand for it just as if I’m telling someone face to face or at the pub.” (Huber)
      • “ The central point is not to create a virtual community, but to represent a real existing one and to achieve a connection with reality. … And so we have far fewer disruptors here than in classical [pseudonymous, online] fora.” (Huber)
      • Staff deal with worst cases and ensure legal compliance, and post their own content to generate more discussion
  • Community News and Local Journalism
    • Print publications in most active regions:
      • 18 print magazines in Bavaria and Suebia (as at Oct. 2008)
      • Print magazines, weekly newspaper inserts in Hannover region
      • Content sourced from site
      • Magazines funded through hyperlocal advertising
    • Collaboration with Madsack publishing house, Hannover:
      • Inserts in Hannover region newspapers ( Heimatzeitungen ) launched on 23 Apr. 2008
      • 5000 registered users within six months
      • Drawing on local journalists’ experience and connections
      • European Newspaper Award in late 2008
    • Other emerging collaborations elsewhere in Germany
  • Acknowledging Local Knowledge
    • Reactions from Heimatzeitung journalists:
      • “ Our colleagues watched this with a sceptical eye. … We had something in Burgdorf where a street had subsided … , and that story was in the [online] community first. So in the editorial meeting we said, … why didn’t we find out about this before? … It still took two, three days until it was properly in the paper. … A huge story.
      • But our colleagues said, we can’t look at the [online] community as well … to check the community for what they’re posting, to evaluate this, is it a topic for us or not… Why are they forcing another type of reality on us?
      • So we said, this is reality – if the users think this is important, then we have to check for ourselves, is this an interesting piece that we need to redevelop? Not just the way the community see it, of course – we have the chance to research, to interview others, to evaluate, to comment; we have our journalistic means of dealing with it.”
      • (Clemens Wlokas, Heimatzeitung deputy editor-in-chief)
  • Towards Pro-Am Journalism
    • Beyond ‘us vs. them’ in journalism:
      • “ Publishers who no longer want to spend money on expensive newsrooms now take citizen journalists as ersatz content producers to obtain content cheaply and put papers on the market without employing a newsroom. That’s not at all what we do – we wouldn’t even think about it, because the connection, the cross‐fertilisation, … that’s important, that’s essential.” (Wlokas)
      • “ There are always two pillars, community and competence, which complement one another, which influence one another, but which do not replace one another.” (Wlokas)
    • Professional journalists as adding value to community news:
      • “ Journalists are there to cut an aisle of understanding through the jungle of information.”
      • (Peter Taubald, Heimatzeitung editor-in-chief)
  • Limits to myHeimat ’s Hyperlocalism?
    • What type of community?
      • Great success with ‘grown’ local communities
      • Limited take-up in areas with greater resident turnover
      • Limited take-up in city suburbs
        • connection to city, but not necessarily to suburb
      • Natural limit to local community size
      • “ We’re in the process of looking at this, can it be translated to city quarters, to suburbs; where is the analogy to the metropolis?” (Huber)
      • Can it work outside of Germany?
    • myHeimat publishing platform also used for other projects (e.g. Gießener Zeitung ):
      • “ A single citizen reporter on myHeimat probably doesn’t even know how they indirectly manage to make the newspaper better, by creating competition or introducing new thinking.” (Huber)
  • Acknowledgments
    • Interviews:
      • Peter Taubald (r.) & Clemens Wlokas (l.) Madsack Heimatzeitungen , Garbsen, 23 Oct. 2008.
      • Martin Huber Gogol Medien, Munich, 29 Oct. 2008.
  • Viral Marketing
    • Axel Bruns
    • Associate Professor
    • ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation
    • Creative Industries Faculty
    • Queensland University of Technology
    • Brisbane, Australia
    • [email_address]
    • http://snurb.info/
    • http://produsage.org/
    • http://gatewatching.org/
    • Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond:From Production to Produsage (Peter Lang, 2008)
    • Uses of Blogs , eds. Axel Bruns and Joanne Jacobs (Peter Lang, 2006)
    • Gatewatching: Collaborative Online News Production (Peter Lang, 2005)