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  1. 1. Grass Roots Journalism by Mid-Missourians The citizen journalism route to readership Clyde H. Bentley, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Missouri School of Journalism
  2. 2. Short circuiting the “priesthood” Technologists empowered Heretics Johannes Gutenberg Martin Luther Tim Berners-Lee Oh Yeon-ho 13th-14th centuries 20th-21st centuries
  3. 3. The “other” side of journalism Information from non-professional communicators  Bulletin boards  Civic club presentations  “News” releases  Coffee klatches  Chat rooms  Gossip  Blogs
  4. 4. 16 months with “citizens”  A participatory project under “The Missouri Method.”  Real-world challenges, real-world solutions  Empowered students who developed management skills launched Oct. 1, 2004
  5. 5. Inspired by others  OhMyNews was well known to professors and popular with our Korean students  Launch of Northwest Voice generated a faculty discussion.  Dean Mills recognized the potential and asked us to move quickly.  Proposed in late May 2004, launched Oct. 1. . “Can we proceed with all deliberate speed? I'm in no hurry. Next week would be soon enough” “”Can we proceed with all deliberate speed? I'm in no hurry. Next week would be soon enough” - Dean Mills “”Every citizen is a journalist” - Dean Mills - Oh Yeon-Ho
  6. 6. A challenge to tradition  Missouri is the home of traditional newspaper journalism education  Some faculty questioned the ability to maintain credibility  Could we teach a journalism where “we” were not in control?
  7. 7. So why do it?  To give voice to those traditionally excluded from the media  To allow non-journalists to help set the community agenda  To test our knowledge of audience values  To train students in a new form of journalism Oh, I forgot . . .
  8. 8. First three quarters, 2005 And to make money … Newspaper Print and Online Revenues 0 5000000 10000000 15000000 20000000 25000000 30000000 35000000 40000000 1 2 First three quarters, 2005 $33,934,000 $1,373,000 Print Online 4.38% Source: NAA Quarterly Newspaper Advertising Expenditures
  9. 9. Online alone is not enough
  10. 10. A hybrid strategy  Gather content via an online citizen journalism product Use that content to fill a printed TMC product Use revenue gains in TMC to underwrite the online product Which led to one more BIG goal…
  11. 11. End Driveway Rot!
  12. 12. TMC = The Money Cow  Total Market Coverage products often produce a substantial portion of a newspaper’s budget.  At the Missourian, our TMC is budgeted at about 25% of our revenue but actually brings in 33%. Depending how you count it…
  13. 13. It more than adds up “Also, we will do about $230,000 with the Real Estate This Week magazine this year. That would not be possible if we did not have the Saturday TMC for distribution purposes.” Dan Potter Missourian GM “What’s deceptive is that much of the daily revenue comes from the TMC agreements in a forced buy, so even more of our revenue is the result of our TMCs.
  14. 14. Back to print  Print edition launched Oct. 1, 2006  Allows use of the efficient advertising pattern of print  Increases readership by 23,000 households  Reverses the print-to-Web paradigm
  15. 15. Compelling content is the key to readership  TMC’s are often filled with old, trivial or syndicated material  Lack of reader interest can cause “pickup failure”  Citizen-generated material is unduplicated, compelling and does not compete with our own daily product
  16. 16. Readers reach readers  “I have seen newspaper companies spend thousand of dollars annually to determine what readers expect. Few of their findings, however, are ever implemented.  “The greatest benefit of what we have done with MyMissourian is we have given newsroom leaders an inexpensive and effective way to give readers what they truly want.” Hans K. Meyer graduate student Citizen journalism succeeds where others have failed.
  17. 17. Is there a future for journalists?  YES -- both professional and citizen journalists  Blogs pose both a threat and an opportunity  The power relationship in information is being re-negotiated  Journalists provide continuity and quality control  Story tellers become story guides
  18. 18. New journalism skills  “As more and more news organizations adopt community/citizen/open-source journalism ventures, they'll need to learn how to run them.  “Covering stories and collecting, cultivating, sharing stories are very different things. Helping others to share their lives is still journalism, and it needs to be taught.” Brian Hamman graduate student
  19. 19. Inviting the public to our table  Many editors are concerned about errors, credibility and libel  Some fear that citizen writing quality is low  How do we know if those untrained people are lying?  WILL WE LOSE CONTROL?
  20. 20. Mix logic with understanding  Most participants in citizen journalism have little reason to cheat or lie.  The “WBC” category is primarily the realm of blogs.  By and large, most Americans will conform to rules that are both simple and logical.  Focus on broad concerns; keep rules simple.
  21. 21. The arguments “Decency” - How do we treat profanity and adult topics? “Commercialism” - What about the promotion of a business, organization, religion, etc.? “Literacy” - How much editing and rewriting should we do? “Banalism” Is anything just too stupid to appear on the site? If so, how dumb is dumb?
  22. 22. Logical solutions “Decency” No profanity, no nudity - use normal newspaper standards of propriety “Commercialism” Don’t ban businesses that self- promote, but work with them to produce copy of general interest. “Literacy” Keep editing to a minimum, focusing on readability rather than style. Avoid jargon and cultural slang that can be misinterpreted. “Banalism” Journalists are poor judges of the banal. Rather than say anything is too low-brow, just find an appropriate category and let the public judge it.
  23. 23. And… Just Four Simple Rules No profanity No nudity No personal attacks No attacks on race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation
  24. 24. The end of “NO”  “I worked in newspapers for seven years, and as an editor most of my dealings with the public were about telling people “no” due to limited space.  NO, we can't cover your event.  NO, we can't run your youth baseball photo in the newspaper.  NO, your story idea isn't good enough for publication.  “The open source format takes a medium with limitless file space and allows us to finally say ”YES" to the public.” Jeremy Littau graduate student
  25. 25. Let them write Any subject. Everything is interesting to someone
  26. 26. Enlist “senior” photogs Hobbyists are often looking for a forum for their photos
  27. 27. Give them disposable cameras Example: Camera passed around at a teen dance
  28. 28. Go for the “gut” QuickTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture.
  29. 29. Earth Day: Natural news  Annual festival celebrates environmental awareness  Provided wireless laptops so citizens could comment on the spot
  30. 30. Earth Day: Picture it  Loaned digital cameras to citizens to document the festival
  31. 31. Unexpected reader issues Political issues are much less popular than we predicted. Religion is far, far more popular than we predicted. Pictures of dogs, cats and even rats trump most other copy.
  32. 32. Unexpected teaching issues Traditional journalism students want to write, not “guide.” Many were at a loss at how to cover “non news” topics like Little League. Few students are well prepared to work with the public.
  33. 33. Into the future  More teasers in the morning newspaper  Increased connection with high school journalism classes Addition of student and citizen blogs Establish a “Websighted” photo program. Class in “entrepreneurial journalism”

Editor's Notes

  • I write well
    Those four words defined my life. I essayed my way to decent grades, memoed myself to promotions and front-paged myself into the hearts and minds of communities.
    Sound familiar? It should. We’re journalists. We write well.
    But here are four more words -- scary words. WE ARE NOT ALONE
    One of those good pieces of writing I take credit for is the lede to our AEJMC paper:
    If necessity is the mother of invention, panic may be the mother of journalistic innovation.
    This is the story of how a journalism school approached that panic by combining traditional and very new techniques.
    MyMissourian is a unique production of a unique journalism school.
    It was started as a commercial adjunct to a daily morning newspaper. But it was also established as a laboratory to help the whole newspaper industry come to grips with the citizen journalism movement.
  • Walter William started the Missouri School of Journalism to combine communications theory with practical journalism training.
    The very first graduating class had students from China and other areas of the world. Today, a third of our graduate students are international. We have more than 100 international students from approximately 40 countries.
    The key to Mizzou is the Missouri Method -- a system in which our students work at school-owned commercial media outlets. We have a daily community newspaper, a network television station, a radio station and several Web sites.
    The journalism school has approximately 80 fulltime faculty members plus a corps of part-time adjuncts.
  • Our faculty uses e-mail discussion lists to look at new ideas. We watched OhMyNews as it developed. When the Northwest Voice in Bakersfield launched, we had a lively discussion about it’s potential.
    I wrote a brief proposal that spring offering to convert one of our classes to a project class for citizen journalism. Our dean, Dean Mills, half jokingly asked if I could get the site up NEXT WEEK. The enthusiasm Dean Mills expressed for the project was extraordinary, but also gave it a sense of urgency.
    Over the summer, I recruited a corps of graduate students and began drafting policies and exploring logistics.
  • The idea of open source or citizen journalism was not universally embraced.
    Some questioned our ability to maintain credibility and we were often asked how we would check facts.
    At the heart, the concern of the faculty was about control. And changes in control would take changes in curriculum and changes in skills.
  • Many of our graduate students have substantial professional experience. Hans Meyer was a general manager for a daily newspaper before coming to Missouri.
    Like many of us in American journalism, Hans is worried by declining audiences -- and frustrated that media companies have done little to address the decline.
    Citizen journalism allows us to go direct to the source -- the citizens themselves -- to promote readership.
  • The Missouri School of Journalism is part of the traditional media system. But it recognizes that journalism must change to meet the needs of the 21st century.
    Part of that change is reflected in blogging, which is extremely popular in the United States. But like other unmoderated forms of commentary, it is breaking down as volume increases while quality decreases.
    We think there is a substantial role for journalists, but it may not be the traditional role of collecting information and then writing a story.
  • My graduate students realized the implications immediately. They had all been through a traditional journalism education in which we asked them to “cover” stories. They are all superb writes -- but now I asked them to report without writing.
  • We started the MyMissourian planning process with a long and energetic argument about what issues we should address with policies or rules, After many false starts, we focused on four issues.
    In a college town, we knew we would get profanity in content
    Many of our people were concerned about “the wall” between editorial and advertising
    As trained journalists, our immediate inclination was to edit submitted copy intensely.
    And then there was the stupid. American journalists are famous for dismissing the work of “the great unwashed and untutored” as not fit for publication
  • It took hours of discussion, but we resolved the four issues.
    We decided to adopt the same rules on profanity as our host newspaper
    We were not ready to bar commercialism, just to control it. We planned to work with contributors to tone down commercialism and perhaps to add a commercial category at a later date
    The editing question was the toughest. We finally rejected AP style and said we would just edit for general readability.
    We gave up on the stupid issue. We decided journalists just don’t do a good job judging what is stupid. Our backup is an “odds and ends” category in which we can place the really absurd. But we have never had to use the category.
  • With simplicity in mind, we turned the policies into four postable rules.
    Readers were at the top of our minds when we started to plan MyMissourian. We were concerned that the many “rules” of journalism were to complex for the average reader, so we boiled them down to just four simple rules.
    Such a simple set of rules was liberating for those of us who were experienced newspaper journalist. Graduate student Jeremy Littau said it best.
  • <Observations>
    1. We need to help give the format a push, it doesn't just grown on its own. Much of our role has been marketing and brainstorming new ideas to get submissions.
    2. Topics with much coverage in the traditional media (politics, mass entertainment, crime) don't translate well in terms of MyMissourian. Topics that traditionally are either ignored or undercovered (religion, local events, gardening, personal work such as poetry) dominate our submissions.
    3. A big barrier to submissions has been ease of submission. The smoother the interface for submission, the more likely it is that we get submissions.
  • The result is copy -- often on controversial topics but also often on everyday life.
  • We are experimenting with taking the news process directly to the people
  • Giving people a camera was a major success. Now we are cooperating with a group of podcasters and a local citizen television organization on cable.
  • Politics - We put heavy emphasis on seeing this section thrive, and our Oct. 1 launch date was even geared toward getting voices for the November presidential election. What we discovered instead was that there was little interest in contributing. Most of the pieces we got were either produced by staff members or heavily solicited by them. Even the Democrat and Republican clubs on campus dragged their feet on this.
    Religion - We found that this was one of the most popular sections in terms of getting people to contribute. It seems the religious community had a lot to say, as they took to the new platform pretty much immediately and co-opted it for their purpose. The irony is that religion often gets covered in mainstream media as an unchanging monolith, yet they were the most adaptable to this new medium.
    Some issues simply work best in traditional media
  • We learned what journalists don't know - The sports guys were lost on how to proceed when told to contact Little League presidents or youth soccer parents in town to pitch our site. These were students who'd worked sports on the Missourian print edition, but it was clear that their view of sports coverage was that journalists merely cover events. They had no idea how to dig up addresses from phone books or make face-to-face contact, they expected journalism to be a "show up to the event and hand me my press kit" kind of thing. This emboldened us, in a sense, because it was an interesting case study in why citizen journalism is gaining favor ... mainstream journalism has lost its way.
  • What’s next:
    -- Will go to print next fall. It is a better revenue source and spreads information to another group of readers. (arrives on the porch)
    Better coordination with the newspaper
    -- Better use of students
    -- Add staff blogs and a blog directory
    -- Focus class on sharing.