November 15, 2008

Citizen Journalism Workshop

The Citizen Journalism workshop sponsored by the Kentucky Press Association was on Thursday. Education reporter Sarah Cunningham, photographer Scott Utterback, and web/social media gurus Kim Kolarik and John Mura -- all four from the Louisville Courier-Journal -- were the presenters.

The theme running through each of their presentations was that we are in a new multi-media age, and we can either adapt or be left behind. Blogs, FaceBook, MySpace, YouTube, ning, qik (a new one on me, qik allows for a live video stream from a cell phone to the net) are all important, but the greatest of these, the new king per Mura, is twitter. With twitter, you can (and do) send your blog headlines to everyone. It is, said Sarah Cunningham, "important for creating a relationship."

And relationships are what it's all about. The stronger the relationship, the more often readers will check back and the more likely readers are to link. As John Mura explained, "You get credibility [with readers, with professional journalists, with advertisers] by getting visibility first." Which may explain the hype surrounding the rather plain and not especially qualified for anything Paris Hilton; visibility is her stock in trade.

Here are a few excerpts from the day:

Regarding the blogging done by C-J employees on their site, Cunningham said that press attorneys say the less editing the better and that "you get in less trouble if you just open the floor for discussion."

Kolarik believes that blogs are good for democracy. Why? Because they allow for increased transparency. I suppose that's because the sheer amount of information about a given meeting, issue, topic is increased when citizens report their experience along with the professional reporters.

David Grier, who put the day's shindig together for KPA, pointed out that "pamphleteers were the original bloggers." It wasn't the newspapers that shaped our revolution; it was individuals writing, printing, and distributing their own pamphlets.

Scott Utterback demonstrated the technical aspects of camera techniques and the interpersonal aspects of reporting techniques. "Stay wide" when you aren't using a tripod, he said, and "No great photos are ever taken in the back of a police car, in handcuffs." In other words, if you're in the middle of a tense situation and a police officer tells you to move on, explain that you're press and, if the officer insists, move on.

John Mura laid out the reality in newsrooms (now called information centers):
Reporters are having to write more than ever before.
Copy editors have less and less time to correct errors (pagination takes up half their time).
The number of people in newsrooms is 40% of what it was in 1985.
The upshot of these changes? "Nobody expects everything to be perfect now."

Is this progress or not? If you the job of newspapers is to provide information, the increase in the amount of information available can only benefit democracy.

All in all, a good day. Only one things strikes me, in retrospect, as odd. All of the presenters were professional journalists. Wouldn't it make sense for a workshop on citizen journalism to include some -- oh, I don't know ... citizen journalists?

Why didn't it? Because the expected audience for this workshop was folks from weekly newspapers ready to forge an online presence. The actual audience? Citizen journalists who are either blogging or interested in blogging. But that's how things work in our new media age; we're all on this adventure together, figuring it out as we go along.

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