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Student summer blog: How students can get involved on citizen journalism platforms

September 12th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Training

Images by lirneasia on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Danny Roberts is a sports journalism student at Leeds Trinity University College and tweets from @DannyRoberts74.

We live in a very fast paced, evolving world. Technology becomes more advanced by the second and is ours to use to our advantage, especially as journalists. Gone are the days were you must spend years working to get a break that would see your work published. In today’s world you can have your story seen by thousands of people in just a few minutes.

Citizen journalism has fast become a huge player in the media world. As a student journalist, you should have a Twitter account, a Facebook account and a blog already, and if you are looking for somewhere to publish your work even further, there are many sites that carry citizen journalism reporting as well as applications that allow you to share pictures and stream video live.

One of the most famous events which demonstrated the importance of citizen journalism was the plane crash in the Hudson River in 2009. Only four minutes after this happened, a picture and the tweet “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson riv [sic] in manhattan” were published online. It would take news crews a lot longer to get to the scene, set-up and report on.

Entrepreneur, Adam Baker, came up with the idea for citizen journalism website Blottr.com, after seeing the 9/11 attacks unfold on TV. He believes that people should have a place to publish their work and show it off to thousands of people.

Ravin Sampat, editor of Blottr.com, said citizen journalists fall into many categories.

There are those that are at the scene (not journalists) of an event who can be labelled citizen reporters because they captured a photo or video, and can help journalists collaborate on a story. Then there are those individuals who like being part of the newsgathering process, i.e. amateur reporters, who play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and collaborating on news. They play a vital role in the ongoing drama that is a breaking news situation.

Ravin then added that which he feels it is not fair to look for something specific in a citizen journalist, there are three important factors:

1. Facts and sticking to what you observe

2. Never altering multimedia content like photos and video to depict a different version of events

3. Avoiding hearsay

Blottr still likes to see traditional writing skills being put to use in its pieces but knows that not everybody on the site enjoys writing:

Quality of writing is very important especially if you want people to read your work. This rule applies to those working in the mainstream media as well and is no different for citizen journalists. Some citizen journalists don’t like writing but have a lot to contribute to a story using things like video and pictures captured.

Being part of a citizen journalism site gives students a platform to show off their talents to potential employers as well as gaining news writing experience. With sites like Blottr.com you can also collaborate with others to make the perfect, verified, story. It also allows people to share news without having to write and describe the scene and what happened:

Being a citizen journalism news site, you can understand we get different types of content on a daily basis, from protests in Chicago, to the growing conflict in Syria, to something as simple as people snapping photos of Olympic moments. Over the last year we’ve found that the content that picks up the most traction is the content that’s new, fresh, and photo and video heavy. When there is a breaking news story that we have first, we get lots of traction, and as the story develops, and the mainstream media outlets start getting more information, we get even more traction for having broken that story first.

The most views are usually on pictures and videos, however that doesn’t mean that writing or opinion is rejected as they all have their place. Sampat said that “amateur footage is unique in that it’s raw, unedited”, and in some cases can be more powerful on its own than as part of a news package. But he added that “depending on the topic, each type of content is unique it its own way”.

One platform that allows citizens to stream video live from a webcam or smartphone is Bambuser. This would allow student journalists to have another outlet for their work if they wanted to go into broadcast media in the future and are looking for experience. Then there is Flickr, that allows the sharing of photos, along with other platforms such as Instagram. They are examples of other useful outlets for students that want to get their multimedia work out there, and is ideal for people that want to primarily work as a photographer or broadcaster.

To conclude, citizen journalism is fast becoming an integral part of the media and reporting world. People use social networks every day without possibly realising that what they are posting can be seen and interpreted by millions of people. So if you have the news and just need a platform to share it there are clearly many ways to do so in today’s world.

Useful sites and apps for citizen journalists:

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Bambuser offers free premium accounts to citizen journalists

Bambuser, the live-streaming smartphone app, has announced it will be offering its premium service for free to citizen journalists and activists.

Their premium usage tier usually starts at €99 per month and can cost up to €499 per month. The new premium for citizen journalists will offer unlimited hours of streaming, unlimited storage and an ad-free player. There is also an option to allow Associated Press to make footage available to their media outlets.

Posting on their blog, they said:

At Bambuser we truly believe in free speech and democracy. Over the past years we’ve seen more and more activists and citizen journalists use Bambuser to broadcast real-time information about activities and events when they happen. We think that user generated content broadens the overall picture of what’s actually going on, and is needed to complement professional news reporting.

When traditional media has little or no possibilities to have journalists on site, user generated live streams are essential.

Speaking to The Next Web, Bambuser’s executive chairman Hans Eriksson explained the decision:

We don’t believe ads combined with protests, demonstrations and war-like situations are proper. We know ads are also an issue for the broadcaster as he/she wants the cleanest possible video out. To us, these people are important users and if we can help them to a better total experience in what they’re doing we’re very satisfied.

Bambuser has been used heavily by citizen journalists and activists around the world and came to prominence during the Arab Spring last year. Since then it has been used to monitor the parliamentary elections in Egypt and cover the Occupy Wall Street movement. After footage from the violence in Homs was used by broadcasters around the world the Syrian government blocked the service on its 3G mobile networks.

Citizen journalists and activists can apply for the premium account by emailing info@bambuser.com with their username and a brief description of what they do.

Bambuser is a previous Journalism.co.uk app of the week.

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Students relaunch the Cardiffian to fill gap left by Guardian Cardiff closure

Trainee newspaper journalists from Cardiff School of Journalism have relaunched the Cardiffian, a hyperlocal.

One of those involved, Tom Rouse, explains how it is run.

The news site is staffed by trainee newspaper journalists at Cardiff School of Journalism. With 29 reporters, each assigned their own patch, we are able to cover a large part of Cardiff at a ward level and cover a depth and breadth of stories which engage with communities on their own level.

The site was originally set up for last year’s students, so our focus this year has been reviving a site which has lain dormant since April and rebuilding ties with local community groups.  This background means we have not had to build a readership from scratch, but has presented a different challenge in ensuring we offer something different from what is already out there.

Fundamentally, the Cardiffian is a news site and a chance for us to put our work in a real world setting.  The majority of our second term is dominated by our first efforts as journalists in sourcing stories and producing a paper. As this paper is produced as a training exercise it allows us to make mistakes in a safe environment. Putting our work up on the Cardiffian builds upon this by giving us an invaluable opportunity to gain feedback from readers about the stories we’re writing and understand what works when presented to an audience and what doesn’t.

But, we are hoping to make the site far more than just another source of news in Cardiff. We want to fill the niche in the local online community which was left vacant by the demise of Guardian Cardiff and act as a hub for a variety of content, not just our own.

This means a large part of our strategy revolves around making ourselves useful to communities and encouraging them to engage with the site, whether that means submitting their events to our listings page or writing a guest blog on an issue they feel passionately about. We are hoping to build a genuine two-way relationship with our readers,

Glyn Mottershead, lecturer in digital journalism at Cardiff University, said:

The key point of the site is to help our students learn about the ways in which the industry is changing, to understand content and community strategies and build a living portfolio of work.

It is also an opportunity for them to engage with groups in Cardiff and try and help them get their message out.

The first year was very much a news site, which worked well in its run and received good feedback. This year is more about involving members of the community in the site and trying to understand and support an online community that is interested in what is happening in the city around them.

The site is also a bit more of a lab than other parts of the course and gives the students the opportunity to explore ideas that may be of interest to the community and suggest changes to platforms and strategies based on genuine feedback from them.

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CNN launches new iReport site

CNN this week unveiled its new iReport site which, according to a blog post about the changes, will offer greater personalisation, an enhanced community through “groups” and a “favourite button”.

iReport is CNN’s platform for user-generated content, where non-journalists submit video stories, the best of which are broadcast on the news channel.

The update comes five years after iReport was launched and, according to CNN’s post, now has a community of “nearly a million people”.

Last month at news:rewired – connected journalism, CNN digital producer Dominique van Heerden shared some interesting statistics on iReport, such as that CNN had published 912,000 iReports since its launch, with 15,000 iReports published on average every month and 2.4 million unique users in June 2011.

In an article on the new version iReport, lostremote’s Natan Edelsburg said the aim was “to create the largest ‘social network for news,’ according to Lila King, participation director at CNN”.

Read lostremote’s report here.

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Ariel: BBC launches 2012 local reporter scheme

The BBC this week launched its 2012 Community Reporters scheme, according to an article by in-house magazine Ariel, which will see the trainees ultimately get the chance to pitch an idea to BBC London.

According to the report the 18 trainees include “a minicab driver from Brick Lane, an artist from Hackney and a Marylebone youth worker”.

The new recruits, who are actively involved in their communities and have no paid broadcasting experience or qualifications, will get six days of advice from experts across the BBC, including the College of Production, CoJo and journalists at BBC London.

They will then pitch their ideas to the BBC London editorial team, who will choose which ones to develop for broadcast in a week of production in December.

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Seven tips on reporting overseas by the Summer Reporter

October 31st, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Journalism

Dutch freelance journalist Gemma van der Kamp spent her summer travelling across Europe meeting journalists and “non-journalistic news producers” as part of a Summer Reporter project run by De Nieuwe Reporter (DNR). She shares her seven tips for backpack reporting.

Gemma's Summer Reporter kit

1. Travel third class or buy a bicycle. In the midst of curious locals who wonder what you are doing, you quickly get to know the country. Working on hard wooden benches in shaky trains might be uncomfortable; it is much more fun than feeling lonely in fancy single first class coupés. Riding a bicycle is even better.

2. If you work across Europe and travel by public transport, use the convenient journey planner from the German Railway Network . This online tool maps out how best to travel from the North of Denmark across Moldavia to Southern Italy and is strikingly accurate.

3. Sell your work internationally. If you work internationally and want your work translated in other languages or need video subtitles, have a look at Straker Translation. This online translation company has developed its own machine translation model, though uses human editors to make sure the translation is accurate.

4. Be patient. Adapt your concept of time and distance. An hour in the UK is equal to ten minutes in India. Agreeing on meeting up at 4pm, might turn out to become 8pm in some countries. A 60km trip that takes an hour in the UK can last a day in Ukraine. Take these factors into account when agreeing on deadlines for your work.

5. Pop up and be nosy-poky. To quickly find your way in a new country and to find good stories, get away from the computer and go out to talk to people. Ask people where the media outlets are based and where local journalists gather for drinks. Local journalists usually have a wide network and can easily introduce you to potentially interesting sources. Don’t put too much energy in trying to arrange meetings before your arrival. Simply pop up by knocking on doors.

6. Dare to be unprepared. If you have no idea whether you really have secured an interview, don’t worry. Dare to take the risk to travel for hours to the agreed meeting place, because you unconsciously keep your eyes open for a possible alternative story. The best stories often are the result of chance encounters.

7. If you live on a shoe string, try to spend nights at other people’s couches via the home stay network couchsurfing. It is the ideal way to get to know locals and it could open doors to a more permanent place to stay. When I lived in New Delhi, one couchsurf night resulted in a three months’ stay for a minute rent.

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Location-based iPhone app Meporter building up reporting base

Meporter is a location-based iPhone app for reporting local news by sharing geolocated text, photos and videos.

It is just three weeks old and this week is launching a social media and advertising campaign to gather the critical mass of reporters – or Meporters, as they are known – needed to make the start-up a success.

Meporter was launched at TechCrunch‘s Disrupt 2011, a technology competition in New York, after being chosen as one of the 26 companies, out of 1,000 applicants, to be showcased.

Since then Meporter has set up in several countries, including the UK, China, Australia, Japan, Spain, Italy as well as the US, according to CEO and founder Andy Leff.

The kind of stories being reported are not just breaking news events but restaurant, theatre, festival and art reviews.

A quick check for Meporter reports for London reveal “fat lady gets arrested” in Hackney, “roadworks” in Lewisham and “sun shining in Wanstead”.

It is obvious what is needed now is an increase in the number news stories filed, plus if it is used for news gathering, journalists need to know how to verify reports coming in.

When he spoke to Journalism.co.uk Leff said he had not checked Meporter iPhone app downloads for a few days but said the number was “in the tens of thousands”.

So, how can it be used by journalists? So-called citizen journalists can report news and if enough local reporters sign up in an area, it can be used as a news gathering tool as Leff explained:

We’re actually in discussion with number of local publishers, regional publishers, national publishers and international publishers about incorporating Meporter into the news-gathering programmes.

We’ve got interest from a lot of newspapers here in the US, television broadcast companies and we have been contacted by some media publications in Germany to see how they can integrate Meporter.

What they’re saying is that they don’t have the resources or the manpower to get all the news in their local areas but they’re always having people ringing them on the phone saying “nobody’s covering the high school football game”.

News outlets are losing readers because they can’t cover everything.

That will no doubt resonate with local news organisations in the UK and the idea that they can crowdsource local news, including photos and videos, vet the incoming stories, verify them and publish is likely to be appealing.

But for this to work it will require huge take-up and the addition of an Android app, which, along with a BlackBerry app, is due to be launched soon.

Leff is now focussing on spending money to gain that critical mass.

The initial $300,000 cost of launch he gathered by “scrounging through my wallet, couch cushions, begging family and friends” and is now in further talks with investors.

A social media and advertising campaign called the Million Man Launch will see cash give-aways of $27,000 with thousands of dollars being rewarded when milestones of active users are reached.

Meporters are also being incentivised through a badge system, similar to that used by Foursquare, with users able to trade in badges for prizes gathered through sponsorship deals.

The start-up has a long way to go. According to the geolocated app there are just three Meporters in Brighton and between 20 and 30 in London. However, this is an increase from no Meporters in either city a fortnight ago.

Meporter has the potential to reopen a debate on citizen journalism. But what Meporter offers is not that far removed from how local newspapers have always used village reporters to crowdsource and gather local stories. What has changed is the reporting method and thus the demographic of the reporters.

Andy Leff CEO of Meporter, a location-based iPhone app for reporting news by journalismnews

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Citizen journalism site expands after getting £1 million funding

UK citizen journalism site Blottr.com is to expand into five new cities this month, as the company behind the site celebrates securing funding of £1 million.

The platform, founded by Adam Baker, enables users to create and break news stories, as well as contribute towards other peoples’ posts. The company this week closed a round of funding by Mark Pearson, as TechCrunch reported yesterday

Pearson has so far invested £250,000 into the site, with the remaining £750,000 to follow providing the business meets certain “milestones”, such as increasing traffic and engagement with the audience.

Today Baker told Journalism.co.uk the site will be expanding into five new cities in the next couple of weeks: Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh and Manchester. The plan to expand was already in motion before the funding came through, but he added that the financial boost “definitely helped it”.

As part of the expansion, the site is undergoing a redesign to include the added functionality to enable users to add content to their own pages for areas not currently catered for. Blottr is also planning on launching a free iPhone app next week, which will enable users to report on events from the ground using the platform.

Baker said the next step would be to monetise the platform, such as by licensing it out to publishers and media organisations interested in integrating user generated content.

We’ve got a product that does a number of things that publishers and media companies want. In internal conversations they say ‘we know we need to get in user generated content’ but there are a whole bunch of legal issues, and then the other ongoing conversation is how do we make more money and how do we get more unique content?

With the platform they can start to deeply build their audience, get really good content that’s unique to them and then they get pages that they can start to monetise.

Baker added that the US market “is definitely on the radar” but that for now the focus is on the UK and Europe.

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#ijf11: Playing at engagement and verification with Citizenside

Journalists, a lot of journalists in this room probably, recoil at the G word. “Oh you want to turn my really serious story into a game…

This was Citizenside editor-in-chief Philip Trippenbach speaking in an #ijf11 session earlier today called Beyond the Article.

Trippenbach has been trumpeting the benefits of gaming for journalism for some time now. He made a convincing case for gaming at a recent Journalism.co.uk news:rewired event called, coincidentally enough, Beyond the Story.

Trippenbach has worked on interactive projects for the BBC and a host of other outlets. But clearly the “G word” is still a long way from taking root with most journalists.

He made a convincing case again today. This time – having joined citizen press agency Citizenside in January – for the power of gaming for citizen journalism initiatives.

The most powerful interactive form is gaming, in terms of interactive journalism, that is where the win is. When you talk about gaming baked right into the heart of a package, that is very profound.

With the addition of Trippenbach to its staff, Citizenside is certainly baking gaming right into the heart of its operation, and he outlined how it is using the form for two key purposes.

Citizenside users are encouraged to progress from level to level by accomplishing certain tasks, or “missions”, just like you did when you played computer games as a kid (or maybe as an adult too – according to Trippenbach more people in Western Europe and North America play computer games than don’t, although I forgot to ask where he got the data for that one).

And just like those computer games, the missions at Citizenside get harder as you go along, with the early stages requiring you to capture a relatively easy-to-obtain image, and the latter requiring, say, a good image of a state leader or an important newsworthy event.

Perhaps the most interesting thing Trippenbach talked about was how the agency uses that points-based gaming system not just for engaging users, but to help  with assessment and verification of user-generated content, always a thorny issue for citizen press agencies.

If we get a picture from a level 35 user, well, it takes a long time to get to level 35 or 45, and the Citizenside editorial team know that that user has demonstrated commitment to our values.

So not only does the gaming element of the operation help engage users by breaking down their involvement into a series of incremental tasks and levels, it also is a huge advantage to Citizenside for an indication of the reliability of the content it is receiving.

If its someone who has submitted five packages and five of them have been refused, well, we know what that is, but if it’s someone with a 100 per cent record, well, fine.

We have a trust system that allows some users to post directly to the homepage and be post moderated.

As well as information about the user, Citizenside uses software to access data about the package itself.

This technical side of the verification process can potentially allows the agency to see whether an image has been edited in PhotoShop or uploaded to Flickr, and reveal when and where it was taken and uploaded.

I want to return to the issue of gaming and engagement quickly before I finish. However many journalists Trippenbach has seen turn their noses up at gaming, I have seen examples at this festival of gaming creeping in to some of the best and most popular mainstream journalism taking place.

Citizenside’s example of breaking the user engagement down into small, incremental stages has echoes in the Guardian’s MPs expenses app, which aimed to crowdsource the examination of the 458,000 documents published.

The app had two million hits in the first two days but, as the Guardian’s Martin Belam explained recently, users were unenthusiastic because the process hadn’t been broken down into achievable-seeming stages.

When a second batch of documents were released, the team working on the app broke them down into much smaller assignments. That meant it was easier for a small contribution to push the totals along, and we didn’t get bogged down with the inertia of visibly seeing that there was a lot of documents still to process.

So gaming doesn’t necessarily mean the fully-fledged computer games we play on a PlayStation, it can be the simple interactive engagement of the Guardian app, or the New York Times’ Budget Puzzle interactive in which you attempt to solve the deficit.

As Trippenbach acknowledged after the session, gaming is not yet taken seriously as a medium. But at Citizenside it may be the solution to the two key problems facing any citizen agency, engagement and verification, and for that reason you can bet that they take it very seriously.

See more from #ijf11 on the Journalism.co.uk Editor’s Blog.

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TechCrunch: Can citizen journalism work in the UK? Blottr thinks it has the formula

March 1st, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Citizen journalism, Editors' pick

TechCruch reports on a new tool for citizen journalism: Blottr. It’s described as “a mix of collaborative publishing, ‘authentication algorithm’ and revenue sharing”.

Anyone can sign-up and begin writing a news story or making revisions to an existing one, including adding photos or video. Stories are categorised and users are asked to pinpoint the location relevant to the story on a map. Wiki-style, each story has a revision history (to cover the full cycle of an event) and a list of contributors but it’s the ‘authentication algorithm’ that Blottr says make it stand out from other Citizen Journalism offerings. It attributes credibility to each story based on factors like how “influential” the author is on Blottr, how many other people have contributed to the story and how many times its been shared on Facebook and Twitter or been bookmarked.

Full post on TechCrunch at this link

 

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