Friday, April 24, 2009

Why citizen journalism may not be for some

The Sacramento News & Review -- the alternative newspaper which once employed the late Gary Webb, whose exposé of the CIA's role in smuggling cocaine into Los Angeles was featured in Kevin Booth's 2007 documentary American Drug War -- turns 20 this month.

Like many other papers, the News & Review is facing economic travails. Cosmo Garvin, an editor, offers this "Bite":
[W]eirdly enough, recent numbers show that SN&R has more readers—of its print version—than ever. Count in the online readership, which is modest but growing—and it’s clear that readership is strong—it’s just ad sales, the economy, things that are out of a mere reporter’s control—that are killing us.
As a result,
Last year at this time, we were running a lean operation. This year, we’re rail thin.
Might publishing citizen journalism offer a solution? There's something to be said about Mr. Garvin's pluck.
Is there something to be learned from the Sacramento Press, a local experiment in “citizen journalism” that launched a few months ago?

A reporter friend, who recently left the business, says she “couldn’t be less impressed” with the Press’ mix of news releases, bloglike opinion posts and, on a good day, actual reporting. But credit them with trying something new(ish), and give them a chance to develop. If they’d just credit our photos when they use them and keep their fliers out of our news racks—Bites would say the more the merrier.

But no, the Sacramento Press’ “citizen journalism” model won’t work for us, any more than the [Sacramento] Bee’s business model will work for us. We won’t be reprinting releases from the Sacramento Police Department. And we won’t be shoveling money at shareholders and multimillionaire CEOs.

We will pick up a phone, go knock on a door, go to the show, ask a lot of questions and tell readers something they didn’t already know. And whether you get that via Twitter or read it on the bus or have it beamed directly into your brain plugs—it will still be free.

Find the whole "Bite" here.

Also read: "The future lies in alternative journalism, not citizen journalism"
"It's all about the content. It's not about the medium"
And: Newspapers' closure adversely affects political engagement, study finds
And: "Media innovation cannot be dependent on advertisers"
And: Did the Newspaper Preservation Act encourage newspapers to ignore the competition?
Finally: Should the newspaper industry get a bailout?

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