The future of citizen journalism, traditional media and good stories

Traditional news outlets have all tried to figure out a business model that would allow citizens to report the news. Bringing citizens into their news reporting process would not only allow the networks to have the most up-to-date and exclusive content, it would enable them to get this content either free or for very little, without having to send reporters to the center of the story.

CNN has been the most successful in this regard. Its iReport section receives thousands of submissions daily. The top videos and articles are vetted and fact-checked by recent college graduates who comprise the CNN iReport staff and producers in Atlanta.

There has been no other successful business model for user generated content. In 2007, ABC News created iCaught, a prime time network news program based on citizen-generated content. The show failed to garner a sufficient viewership and was canceled after just six weeks. Al Gore’s production, called Current TV, originally created over half of its programming from short content generated by independent filmmakers. Current TV would actually pay filmmakers whose content made it onto air. This business model also failed after only a couple years on TV.

This pattern raises the question of why has there not been a more successful record for this form of news content. My opinion, from personal experience, is that when a traditional news outlet posts my video content on their website it may get 30,000 to 100,000 views in an afternoon. To get 100,000 viewers of an online video deserves a major applause for citizen journalism, but in comparison when it comes to more than a million people watching the nightly news or millions of people watching CNN or Fox News, 100,000 views is miniscule.

During the next ten years this is going to change. TV ratings will continue to decline and online views will start to even out. I feel the younger generation is going to put pressure on the TV networks to make everything they broadcast on demand and online. People are going to want to pick and choose what they watch and what device they watch it on. There will be no reason you have to be on your couch to watch TV.

Since the invention of the press, radio, and television there have been a strong understanding that a traditional journalist is not alone. Everyone knows a journalist works for someone who is there to oversee the news writing and production process. A corporate journalist for a major network or publication has a team or staff working to make sure that stories are accurate and ethical. Local and national newspapers, magazines, and television news networks all have their newsrooms. Early in the morning, the assignment editors go through a range of possible stories that are available that day. Reporters are assigned and sent on their way to start developing the story in time to have a well-edited version ready by deadline.

It is different for a citizen journalist. There is no newsroom. There is no assignment editor telling you what to cover that day. There is no copy editor to help perfect and organize the final version of your story. You are on your own in looking for the next story. And, once you find your story, you face the challenge of how to get the widest possible audience. If you just post it on YouTube, the video may or may not find an audience. You must have the ability to help your video find an audience.

Fortunately, as with traditional news organizations, the Internet is home to hundreds of recognized independent news organizations and blogs. (More and more, traditional news organizations are trying to be more like the blogs, and the blogs are trying to be more like the traditional news websites.)

Everyone is looking to break a good story. If you can provide a story to one of these sites, the site will help to spread the story around the Net. Producers at television news shows and editors at online news sites and blogs love when a story already produced reaches his or her desk. The result is that if you can provide a story to a journalist and help them do their job you will have a better a chance of getting your story published on the online outlets. If your story gets published on a top online source, then you’ll have a better shot that an editor or producer at a traditional outlet will see your story.

Chris Barrett is thenew media producer for, a partner in Powerhouse Pictures Entertainment and KBC Media, and founder of the PR start-up blog post is reprinted courtesy of Invoke Media’s blog.

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