The news business is getting turned inside out. The folks who used to be our audience are now our competition.
Historically, our platform was the iron that comprises our press. Our distribution channels included our carriers, stores and news racks. Access to the public was limited mainly to “professional” journalists; an enlightened few who wrote for the masses.
Today, anyone with access to a computer and Web access can set up shop and write to a wide audience. Want to broadcast instead? A camera-enabled phone or a $150 Flip camcorder will give you about as much authority and technical capability as a multi-million dollar news studio. The new platforms and distribution channels - which include YouTube and Blogger.com - are readily available and free. The only qualification is possession of minimal computer skills.
This movement - years in the making but getting larger by the day - is often referred to as “citizen journalism”. The first news reports of the U.S. Airways crash in the Hudson River and the Fort Hood shooting last November are just two of innumerable major stories that first broke by eyewitness citizen journalists. Add to that, tens of thousands of daily posts and Tweets by witnesses to celebrity sightings, car wrecks, natural disasters, workforce cutbacks, weather anomalies and more ... and we are quite literally becoming a nation of journalists.
The smartest newspaper companies - including the one I work for - are embracing the change and looking for ways to partner with citizen journalists. It is on some level the old “if you can’t beat them, join them” adaptation. We offer promotion across various distribution channels, access to significant audiences, and credibility working with one of the community’s most trusted brands. Citizen journalists give us more eyes and ears on the ground, much-needed alternative perspectives, expertise in many areas that we don’t possess in a newsroom, and ultimately they bring audiences to our products. It is a symbiotic relationship that works very well.
For instance, a trained journalist can write professionally about a local economic development issue and communicate the basic facts of a story. But a trained economic developer with some basic writing skills can communicate with more passion, authority and understanding on the subject, and he or she can write more frequently and more comprehensively than a general assignment reporter. And that person likely is someone who a significant number of people would value - and take the time to follow - his or her opinions.
Going forward we are going introduce citizen journalism more into our news projects in a variety of ways, but to get a head start we are going to be aggressive about expanding our roster of local bloggers. At 4 p.m. today we’re having a discussion in our newsroom on the subject and I am setting a goal of doubling the number of bloggers we have (from 14 to 28) by April 30, and then looking to triple it from our current number (to 42) by June 30. We’ll brainstorm how to do this and invite community members.
But ... please don’t wait for an invitation. If you have the expertise, time and interest to blog for us on a particular subject, send a brief bio, contact information and a sample blog (or link to one) to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll review and get back to you quickly.
Whether you want to blog to express yourself and have fun, to build credibility as a thought leader in your field of interest, or to bring visibility to your personal and/or business brand, please give it consideration. And thanks for reading my blog.