State of the News Media and Citizen Journalism 2008

State of the News Media 2008

At over 700 pages and with more than 180,000 words, the State of the News Media 2008 report by the Project for Excellent in Journalism in the US brings new meaning to the word comprehensive. There’s no printed version to be found, but the entire report is online here. The content is largely US centric, yet the section on Citizen Media makes for some extremely interesting reading.

A few points from the chapter are worth highlighting.

Consumers of CJ and User Generated Content

  • As of spring 2006, according to a study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 37% of all Americans who go online were engaged with user-generated content.
  • The percentage is even higher for teenagers. According to survey data collected by Pew Internet in the fall of 2006, 64% of 12- to 17-year-olds say they have created content for the Internet, up from 57% in 2004

What is news and who defines news? Is user governed and user generated content inherently more insightful than traditional media coverage?

  • A snapshot study by the Project in the summer of 2007 found the top stories on popular user-driven news sites – Digg, Reddit and – were very different than those of the mainstream media.
  • In the week studied (June 24 to June 29, 2007), the release of Apple’s new iPhone was the most popular story on Digg, while the mainstream press focused on the immigration debate in Washington. Coverage of the war in Iraq accounted for 10% of all articles in the traditional press that week, but across the three user-news sites that PEJ studied, it made up just 1% of all stories.
  • PEJ’s one-week study also found the sources for stories on these sites tended to differ from the mainstream press. Blogs by non-journalists proved to be the most popular source, making up 40% of the stories. Nearly 31% of stories originated on sites such as YouTube and Technorati that also offer citizen-generated content.
  • Mainstream media, by contrast, made up just 25% of articles on these sites. Wire services, such as the Associated Press Reuters, accounted for 5% of them.
  • Newsmakers themselves, from the Pentagon to the presidential candidates to humanitarian and activist groups, began placing content directly on YouTube and MySpace as a way of countering what might be in the mainstream press or even beating the press to the punch.

Growth and influence of Blogs and blogging

  • Data from Technorati, a blogging search engine, found in the spring of 2007 that the number of blogs was doubling every 320 days. According to the research, there were 70 million blogs produced worldwide at that time.
  • Despite the proliferation of blogs, survey data suggest most Americans have yet to accept them as significant news sources. According to a winter 2007 Zogby Poll, blogs were the lowest on the list of “important” sources of news, coming in at 30%, well after Web sites (81%), television (78%), radio (73%), newspapers (69%) and magazines (38%). More Americans, 39%, chose friends and neighbors over blogs as an important informational source.
  • The Pew Internet & American Life Project found in 2006 that most bloggers wrote about issues other than news. Nearly four in ten (37%) said they blogged mainly about their “life and experiences,” with issues of public life (11%) cited as the second most popular topic area. Just 5% said they concentrated primarily on news and current events.

Wikipedia for news?

  • Survey research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 36% of Americans who go online have consulted the site, with nearly one in ten (8%) doing so on typical day in the winter of 2007. The same survey also found that Wikipedia’s highest use came from those with at least a college degree.

Citizen Journalism sites

  • In the absence of revenue, most appear to be running on the owners’ blood, sweat and tears. (I can personally attest to this!)
  • In the midst of the uncertainty that surrounds the business model for citizen journalism sites, nonprofits have become a more visible presence in online journalism. This is especially true at the hyperlocal level, where nonprofits have contributed money to encourage and support citizen reporting.

How open are Citizen Journalism sites?

  • The other discovery was that, for all that citizen journalism might imply openness and interactivity, the majority of sites analyzed tended to demonstrate the instincts of “strong gatekeepers” who control the content and are somewhat more difficult to interact with than the ideals of citizen journalism suggest. Now, instead of professionals, those gatekeepers were the bloggers or citizens who ran the sites.
  • The one form of openness was that the majority, indeed almost all, did allow users to post comments about the material on the site, but the staff reserved the right to edit or otherwise screen the comments to meet its standards of civility.
  • The 2007 PEJ Report included a content study of 38 news Web sites and found the participatory nature of the Web was more theoretical than tangible.

Shooting in public – Citizen journalism under threat in Sri Lanka

In recent months, pedestrians who filmed public bomb attacks on their mobile phones have been confronted by the police. One citizen who passed on such footage to an independent TV channel was later vilified as a ‘traitor’. Overly suspicious (or jealous?) neighbours called the police about a friend who was running his video editing business from home in suburban Colombo.None of these individuals had broken any known law. Yet each one had to protest their innocence.

It may not be illegal, but it sure has become difficult and hazardous to use a camera in public in Sri Lanka today. Forget political demonstrations or bomb attacks that attract media attention. Covering even the most innocuous, mundane aspects of daily life can be misconstrued as a ’security threat’.

Nalaka Gunawardene writes to Groundviews on the emerging threats facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka in an article titled Endangered: Our right to ’shoot’ in public

As Nalaka points out in his article, even liberal democracies such as the US have also tried to clamp down on User Generated Content (USG). As I’ve noted on this blog, while France24’s citizen journalism initiatives are commendable, they largely ignore the fact that France has clamped down on citizen journalism as well.

The problem facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka is the vigilante justice in the form of Civil Defence Committees that have sprung up all over the country. As the Free Media Movement (FMM) in an open letter to the Inspector General of Police notes in relation to two recent cases involved accredited journalists:

We firmly assert that journalists and media workers have a right to gather and disseminate information in the public interest. Any means that directly or inadvertently curtails the rights journalists is tantamount to censorship. We believe the duty of the Police is to protect these rights that are the foundation of democracy. Sadly, in the both cases noted above, the actions of the Police were inimical to their role as defenders of rule of law, giving in as they did to the arbitrary actions of essentially over enthusiastic vigilantes.

If the situation is incredibly bad (and deteriorating further to boot) for journalists today, Nalaka’s understates the challenges facing citizen journalists in Sri Lanka today when he avers that:

It may not be illegal, but it sure has become difficult and hazardous to use a camera in public in Sri Lanka today. Forget political demonstrations or bomb attacks that attract media attention. Covering even the most innocuous, mundane aspects of daily life can be misconstrued as a ’security threat’.

Read his article in full here. The chapter on Citizen Journalism I wrote for Communicating Disasters, that Nalaka quotes from in his article, can be read in full here.

Interview with Dan Gillmor on Citizen Journalism at GK3

Interview with Dan Gillmor at GKP GK III in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 13th December 2007. I moderated a panel titled Pushing the envelop: New Media, Citizens Journalism, Human Rights and Development that had Dan on it at the Global Knowledge Partnership, GK III conference.

Interviewer: Ahmed Shifan from Young Asia Television

Clip 1 – What is Citizen Journalism?

Clip 2 – How did you become involved in Citizen Journalism?

Clip 3 – Citizen Journalism seems to be a growing trend in the world. So what now is the role of the professional media?

Clip 4 – What about the credibility of reports that are posted by Citizen Journalists?

Clip 5 – What is the future for Citizen Journalism?

Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking: OECD study on user generated content

OECD Wikis

Participative Web and User-Created Content: Web 2.0, Wikis and Social Networking is a new publication by the OECD that I just skimmed that looks tremendously interesting. Dealing with the challenges of the rise of user generated content on media such as blogs and social networking sites, the tome deals with the manner in which governments need to adopt to promote such content but also the challenges to legislation and regulatory mechanisms such content pose, in other words, the perennial contest between the freedom of expression and the need to curtail the growth of idea detrimental to society and polity.

The rapid rise of UCC is raising new questions for users, business and policymakers. Digital content policy issues are grouped under six headings: i) enhancing R&D, innovation and technology; ii) developing a competitive, non-discriminatory policy framework; iii) enhancing the infrastructure; iv) shaping business and regulatory environments; v) governments as producers and users of content and vi) better measurement. Governments as producers and users are treated in more detail in separate work. Apart from standard issues such as ensuring wide-spread broadband access and innovation, new questions emerge concerning whether and how governments should support UCC. The maintenance of pro-competitive markets is particularly important with increased commercial activity combined with strong network effects and potential for lock-in. UCC is also testing existing regulatory arrangements and the separation of broadcasting and telecommunications regulations. With the emergence of increasingly advertising-based business models and unsolicited e-mail and marketing messages, rules on advertising will play an important role in the UCC environment (e.g. product placements, advertising to children). In the regulatory environment important questions relate to intellectual property rights and UCC: how to define “fair use” and other copyright exceptions, what are the effects of copyright on new sources of creativity, and how does IPR shape the coexistence of market and non-market creation and distribution of content. In addition, there are questions concerning the copyright liability of UCC platforms hosting potentially unauthorised content, and the impacts of digital rights management. Other issues include: i) how to preserve the freedom of expression made possible by UCC; ii) information and content quality/accuracy and tools to improve these; iii) adult, inappropriate, and illegal content and selfregulatory (e.g. community standards) or technical solutions (e.g. filtering software); iv) safety on the “anonymous” Internet; v) dealing with new issues surrounding privacy and identity theft, vi) monitoring the impacts of intensive Internet use; vii) network security and spam, and viii) regulatory questions dealing with virtual worlds (taxation, competition etc.). Finally, new statistics and indicators are urgently needed to inform policy.

Italy shows us how not to go about addressing the challenge of UCC, yet the challenge of fostering civil conversations online is not insignificant, as many examples from Sri Lanka aptly demonstrate.

What’s interesting in this document are some of the drivers it posits as those that have fostered the rise in UCC. It would be tremendously helpful for agencies such as ICTA to attempt to understand the value of some of the regulatory and legislative frameworks pointed herein to truly foster the greater growth and use of ICTs in Sri Lanka.


Download the full report here.