Toronto Mike

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, and, which was acquired by  the American site in September.

So-called  hyperlocal blogs add to the mix and well-established sites, such as and, 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.  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 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.

Author image
About Toronto Mike
I own TMDS and host Toronto MIke'd. Become a Patron.