Citizen Journalism Gaining Steam: An Article About Me
Remember when I wrote about being interviewed by The Canadian Press last week? The article about me is out there. So far I've seen it in the Winnipeg Free Press and Metro News.
Here's the article in its entirety. I'll share some thoughts at the end.
TORONTO - It took Mike Boon a few years of blogging until he finally beat the mainstream media to a story, an especially big accomplishment considering he lives in Toronto, with its hyper-competitive media market and four newspapers fighting for scoops.
And it wasn't just one lucky break, as he's had another two exclusives this year after carving out a niche for himself reporting on the comings and goings in Toronto radio, a subject he turned his attention to after finding little coverage in the daily papers.
After years of hype, online citizen journalism is starting to have a real impact on the mass media and is drawing readers who aren't getting all the news they want from the mainstream press, said Alfred Hermida, assistant professor with the University of British Columbia's journalism school.
"People are looking for news that's relevant to them . . . and perhaps that's not something that a mainstream publication will publish because it might be too narrow, too niche," Hermida said.
"But if you have, essentially, more media, there's the ability for more stories to be reported."
Canadians have been active in the citizen journalism field, launching sites like Orato.com, Digitaljournal.com and Nowpublic.com, which was acquired by the American site Examiner.com in September.
So-called hyperlocal blogs add to the mix and well-established sites, such as Torontoist.com and Blogto.com, have enough clout to see their content syndicated by the Globe and Mail and National Post, respectively.
NowPublic co-founder Len Brody said his site was launched a few years ago after recognizing the media was facing a challenging future and wouldn't be able to cover everything.
"You now have millions of people around the world that are out recording everything they see and we realized there was going to be a big market opportunity for the next generation (wire service), an organization that would have the ability to help news companies and media companies make sense of this rapid-fire news economy we were going to live in," Brody said.
Examiner.com has entered the Canadian market with local content for Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver but they're not setting out to compete directly with mainstream media, said Brody. Instead, they're hoping to empower local users to create content for their peers.
"Our focus was really on having people in their communities speaking to one another . . . it's about having people who are passionate about any particular subject in their locality writing on it."
In Boon's case, his early postings at Torontomike.com covered his love for "The Dukes of Hazzard" and The Tragically Hip. Over time, posts about local radio piled up and Google began to recognize his site as a main source of that content.
His first big story came in 2006 and involved the firing of local DJ Humble Howard. His web traffic logs suggested users were bombarding his site after searching for information about his on-air absence, which at that point hadn't hit the mainstream.
Boon noticed Howard's name had been scrubbed from the radio station's website and figured he'd write something about it, since there was an obvious appetite for that type of news.
"I had thousands and thousands and thousands of people trying to find out about his radio career, that was the first time I noticed there were suddenly people . . . reading what I have to say."
A couple days later the mainstream media caught up to the story, with Humble Howard - whose real name is Howard Glassman - confirming he was let go.
A little more than a week later, Glassman posted a message on the comments section of Boon's blog and readers continued to talk about that story for another two months. A story the mainstream media initially didn't care about had a lot of legs for Boon and Toronto readers.
Boon's biggest coup came this summer, when he was the first to report on the suicide of local DJ Martin Streek, based on a tip from one of his readers. At least one newspaper quoted his blog as a source and, while he was confident that what he was posting was true, Boon now says he's conflicted about his role as a news provider.
"It frightens me when people sort of take me as a definitive news source, I just think it's dangerous and I'll be the first to admit that," he said.
"Having the audience is very powerful and totally awesome at times but there are times where it is completely scary because, suddenly, people are actually listening to you and a lot of people start to confuse you with CNN or the The Canadian Press."
The questionable credibility of citizen journalism has been one of its biggest criticisms but online readers will quickly decide which sites are reliable and worth reading and which aren't, Hermida said.
"If you don't find a site useful you're never going to go to it again, so the credibility comes from the content rather than the credibility of the brand, and that's not necessarily a bad thing," he said.
"(Readers will question) is the content there valuable to me, does it help me live my life, does it tell me something I didn't know, because essentially, online you can switch at a click of a mouse."
Brody said it's an exciting time for citizen journalism, which is finally building steam and yet is still at an embryonic stage.
"We're really at the beginning of a journey, we're kind of in the 2nd inning of a nine inning game and I would argue we didn't even step onto the ball field until seven or eight months ago," he said.
I've had a few of these interviews lately with the mainstream media, and they're tougher than you'd think. They get you talking, sharing stories and opinions on the subject at hand, and then they take your 60-minute convo and boil it down to 1000 words and a couple of quotes.
For example, regarding my Humble Howard, Are You Okay? entry from 2006, I wrote that after several visitors arrived after searching "humble howard fired" and keywords of that nature. I wrote about it because I was a fan of the Humble and Fred morning show and I sincerely wanted to know if he was okay, because where there's smoke, there's often fire. I didn't write about it because "there was an obvious appetite for that type of news", even though there was.
And I assure everyone, I handled the Martin Streek topic with great sensitivity. Reading that part of the article, especially the reference to my "biggest coup", makes me look a bit like an ass. I wasn't an ass, I promise.
Looking back, it's tough for me to even read Martin Streek Dead. That's not a story I ever wanted to break.
But all in all, it's a pretty fair article and I think the point is valid. Citizen journalism is gaining steam, but everyone needs to check their sources when reading news. I'm not the Globe and Mail or BBC, but I have been blogging for 7 years and 10,000 entries, and over time you do earn trust and integrity. You can't buy cred, you have to put in the time and prove yourself worthy.
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