• RQ1. In general, what do community
newspaper editors think of citizen journalism,
and how likely are they to incorporate some
variation of it in their news operation?
• RQ2. How do community newspapers
negotiate citizen journalism, as a
philosophical concept and a practical concern,
in their role as community gatekeeper?
• Systematic sampling of community papers
• Semi-structured interviews with 29 top editors
• Clarified the question of “citizen journalism”
• Transcriptions textually analyzed
• Papers took one of four approaches:
– 1. Disfavored citizen-J on philosophical grounds
– 2. Disfavored on practical grounds
– 3. Favored citizen-J on philosophical grounds
– 4. Favored on practical grounds
1. Disapprove on principle
• “News is meant to be reported professionally,
not through some random citizen.”
• “I guess we kind of feel like since we’re the
journalists we need to be the ones writing.”
• “I think citizen journalism detracts…. People
see us as the authority news source.”
• “(We) have to control the content…. We have
a good idea of what’s newsworthy based on
2. Disapprove for practical reasons
• “I’m concerned that … things can be
construed as fact when there’s nothing to
back them up as facts…it would be pretty
• “I see a lot of the citizen but not a lot of
journalism. There’s a lot of slander and
personal anger or bitterness, but not news.”
• “Things like editing issues, liability problems—
they can go unchecked with this sort of thing.”
3. Approve on theoretical grounds
• “It’s vital to engaging a community that wants
to have more ownership of their local media.”
• “…journalism will not be replaced by it but it
will be supplemented by it.”
• “We’ve got to figure out a way to get the
younger people involved and I think that’s the
way to do it.”
• “We have an open-door policy. We even have
students, student journalism.”
4. Approve on practical grounds
• “We’re a small paper, it allows us to get stuff in
that we wouldn’t be able to send a reporter to.”
• “We involve citizens extensively… We have
columnists writing about nature, humor, gossip,
• “There is so much more to cover and (only) so
many people who are in a position to cover it.”
• “Any time you get input from your readers, it’s
Positive opinion of
Negative opinion of
9 editors 9 editors
7 editors 4 editors
We looked carefully at the interviews for similarities, differences, trends and Dr. Lasorsa identified these two continuua – editors either approved or disapproved of citizen journalism / and approved or disapproved on two grounds, philosophy or practicality.
Think about it – tiny staffs, sometimes just an editor and one reporter. So practically they might invite content because they can’t find the time to cover everything themselves…
Or practically, they might oppose it because they don’t have time to fact-check citizen content and certainly can’t pay for it.
Philosophically is a little more self-explanatory. Either editors liked it or not – those who didn’t like it overwhelmingly said it was because it would compromise the professionalism of “their” journalism.
Here are some examples of those who just thought citizen journalism was a bad idea. Davis McAuley from the Bastrop Advertiser said: It doesn’t make any sense – reporting is professional and can’t be done my just anyone.
Brian Knox from the Wise County Messenger said: I don’t know if it’s egotistical or what but we’re the journalists and we need to be doing the writing.
There was a lot of talk about authority, credibility, expertise. Editors in this category believe, strongly, that they’re professionals, aware of ethics, serving their community, and they aren’t willing to risk that community service to amateurs.
There were two recurring themes in this group, disapprove for practical reasons. Either they didn’t have time to fact check or they were concerned about libel. Either way, these editors just felt like they couldn’t trust citizen content. Several said when the did offer online access to a comments section they had the same few people write in again and again and it tended to get nasty in a hurry. So here were editors who had given citizen contribution a chance and, basically, gotten burned by it.
Rachael Benavidez from the Brownsville Herald is really open to citizen journalism. Her paper has surveyed neighbors about what they want from their paper and they host community forums and debates. It’s a very 2-way street.
Other editors in this category thought citizen journalism was either a good way to attract new readers or to better serve their community.
And several of these editors mentioned the stability of their readership and circulation – you see what Jessica Hawley-Jerome said about her Bandera Bulletin – they encourage students to write for the paper and just do a little copy-editing then run it.
Finally, the practical editors who reminded us again and again that they just had no staff and were open to all the help they could get – especially if there was some expertise offered. They mentioned the size of their coverage areas, lack of time, and the importance of covering hyper-local things that were vitally important to the community, like middle school clubs and sports – in which a citizen journalist might have more expertise and credibility than a staff writer or editor. And that was exactly the kind of content that would get local families – including school kids – reading the paper.