Tag Archives: Citizen Journalism

Writer, you’re a journalist!

“We can no longer rely on paid journalism to get our messages out there, we simply need to start doing it ourselves.”

THE international media industry is in free-fall with the continued sacking and redundancy of journalists. I wrote about the social media’s impact on the media in 2014, and things have only gotten worse since. Our newspapers, magazines and television programs are full of what is known as paid content. This advertising vs. editorial battle is as old as the media itself, but when the boards of media companies no longer have one experienced news person in their ranks, it could be said the newsmakers have completely lost any control over editorial content. Even public news services are being paid to host advertising as news. It’s for this reason writers need to start behaving like journalists. We can no longer rely on paid journalism to get our messages out there, we simply need to start doing it ourselves.

PROFESSIONAL PANEL Panellists on ABC's QandA.
PROFESSIONAL PANEL Experts on ABC’s QandA.

Be an expert

There are many names for ‘experts’ in fields, influencers, for example, operating predominantly in the marketing sphere, but increasingly impacting the editorial content of the media. These are the people called upon to sit on panel shows or provide expert opinion in sections of the media. They often operate as brands – a marketing-oriented phenomenon designed to create awareness of themes, words, images and products. As writers in today’s media and publishing landscape, it is essential we take elements of these processes and turn them to our advantage. If you write a lot about the environment, for example, you can adopt branding strategies to focus your output in that field. Tweet and Facebook on environmental issues to your audience. Write articles about the environment on your website. Tag and categorise your metadata with environmental keywords, but know exactly why you’re doing it: you are on your way to becoming an influencer in that field.

Keep it real

Influencers and brand adopters are not required to be shallow, purely commercial types. If you are writing and researching subjects that you love, becoming an expert in those fields will come naturally. Write opinion pieces about current events related to your work. Publish reviews about new publications related to your expertise. This is all great fodder for your writing program.

“You don’t need a degree, permission or professional qualifications, you only need journalism skills and consistency.”

Share the love

When you’re ready, start to connect with other online writers and journalists – start with me, if you like – and talk about your work and where it’s taking you. Be prepared to be asked to contribute to other sites – this is a brilliant way to spread your metadata around and can be achieved in a number of ways. Other sites can reblog your posts directly from your site (and you can reciprocate), or you may be asked if you’d like a user profile for another blog, to upload and publish your own contribution – a very common way websites accept contributions. Don’t expect to be paid for much of this output, rather, come to accept it as excellent distribution for your work that will generate followers on Twitter and Facebook, which increases your reach as an expert in your field.

Citizen journalism is not for the faint of heart

One of the most effective strategies I adopted as an online publisher was becoming a citizen journalist. I wrote about the process in two parts – Voyage to the new news world – a process which not only led to increasing my readership but to paid work as an online journalist. I offer a gentle warning about citizen journalism – it’s very accessible, but also highly contentious, because it’s being relied on more and more by established media networks as a way to attract free content, and professional journalists can be very wary of citizen journalists. I wrote about this phenomenon in Stand up, citizen journalists. Citizen journalism is a minefield for writers who are also activists (or become activists over time, through their writing, like I did), so it’s helpful to ponder the fine line between reporting and activism, and freedom of speech. I wrote about this in You cannot burn a mummy blog.

Journalism standards

Adhering to some kind of personal or professional standards as a journalist is not compulsory, but in the online sphere, where readers lay waiting to catch every typo and piece of plagiarism, it’s wise to follow some basics if you’re just starting out. Here’s my best tips for anyone embarking on their own journalism.

Say no to naysayers

Large sections of the international media readership remain under the illusion that the content they read is created by newsrooms full of busy journalists poring over editorial schedules. The reality could not be further from the truth – newsrooms are mainly empty, solo journalists are juggling the jobs that entire teams once did, their hours taken up with meeting the advertorial agenda of management to produce the paid content in their masthead. Citizen journalists are filling the gaps, although whenever the readership complains, they often let off steam about media conspiracies and lazy journalism. Don’t let any of that stop you writing as an expert in your field. You don’t need a degree, permission or professional qualifications, you only need journalism skills, consistency and guts. Check my article on How to write wrong.

WRITE REGARDLESSRecap

As a writer and published author, you’re going to need to forge relationships with journalists. The best place to start is by becoming a journalist yourself. Work out what you’re expert in, and publish quality journalism on that. Keep an eye out for other journalists wanting to connect with you – these are invaluable future connections.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Stand up, citizen journalists

TRY
CALLING CARD Citizen journalism does not open every door.

IN May, 2014, a very simple tweet went out on the afternoon before Fairfax journalists agreed to strike in protest at the company’s plan to cut 80 jobs, mainly in production (layout and sub-editing) and photography.

Since the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) hearings would continue through the strike, a citizen journalist (CJ) asked whether any CJs were available to cover the following day’s ICAC events in lieu of Fairfax. After all, the hearings were only getting more interesting with every new day.

I was mentioned in the tweet, so got swept-up in the replies, but my tweeted suggestions that CJs and the MSM work together during the strike fell on many deaf ears.

“Stand down CJs,” one tweeter advised.

“Don’t cross the picket line,” another warned.

Which posed the question – are citizen journalists comrades of mainstream media journalists, or are we not?

When the Fairfax redundancy announcement was made, it didn’t register at my workplace – a Fairfax title in Queensland – where I was a part-time sub-editor, because we had our heads down meeting our deadline.

I say “we” about citizen journalists because my paid employment as a part-time sub was nothing like my unpaid output as a citizen journalist, which took up a huge chunk of my week as a sub-editor and writer for No Fibs, my own blogs and other sites.

No Fibs’ editor-in-chief, Margo Kingston, a former Fairfax employee, also identifies as a citizen journalist, most recently in her self-funded reports from the Leard and Bentley blockades, mainly via Twitter.

No Fibs ‘pages’ are filled with articles by academics, public servants, corporate employees, authors, carers, business people, welfare recipients, estate agents and many others who identify as CJs, and a few trained journalists.

We journos amongst them are a mish-mash of survivors from the wash-up of the mainstream media, the shipwreck of which occurred long before this week’s latest round of redundancies within Fairfax.

Which tempered my response to the strike. I empathised, but the axe has been hanging over my journalist’s head for years. It’s become almost impossible to secure gainful full-time work with my subbing skills, and I work alongside plenty of highly-skilled, under-employed journalists.

That day’s strike in the south barely registered up here.

FAIRFAX STRIKE Photographer Kirk Gilmour and union representative Andy Zakeli lead editorial staff striking outside offices of the Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong, May 8, 2014.
FAIRFAX STRIKE Photographer Kirk Gilmour and union representative Andy Zakeli led editorial staff striking outside offices of the Illawarra Mercury in Wollongong, May 8, 2014.

Because many of those who were shocked by Fairfax’s job cuts placed the strike at the very centre of journalism as we know it, and, far more surreal, they were expecting readers to notice Fairfax journos wouldn’t be reporting that day.

I weighed into the Twitter debate about whether a CJ could be described as a rat for reporting from ICAC that day, citing lack of pay and lack of affiliation as reasons why it would not be the end of the world if one had.

In the process I was turned into some apologist for the ‘dark forces’ ending our careers, but it has not washed, that argument, ever since I came to terms with why I believe the media has been killed by every single user of the social media’s Publish Button. Journalism will survive, but the media as we knew it is already dead.

It’s very confronting, this moment of realisation, for all journalists – seasoned, emergent, and student. I feel most for the students about to begin a lifetime of HECS debt in return for a degree which will not sustain them with a career. They have been lied to by institutions out of touch with the reality of a dying industry. Savvy 18-year-old tweeters already have more of an audience than most media graduates.

Citizen journalists are perhaps more in touch with the point of journalism – as one tweeter pointed out, journalism is ultimately about communicating to an audience, without whom the job is a one-way street leading nowhere.

We know the role requires much more of individuals than mainstream journalism ever did – taking photographs in addition to writing; creating headlines in addition to stories; proofing our own work and not just writing it; and uploading it onto the largest distribution network the world has ever seen: the social media.

Many citizen journalists struggle with this workload, and there is very, very rarely a pay cheque at the end of weeks of research and/or travel.

Some mainstream journalists have taken to the social media via blogs to complain, and the plethora of spelling errors, layout mistakes and grammatical knots reveal an embedded reliance on production colleagues that may not find sympathy in the wider workplace. Journalists need to be match-fit and multi-skilled, not merely insightful writers.

There is also the issue of access: try blagging your way into a press conference without a mainstream media logo on your lapel, yet citizen journalists manage to get in and report.

For one of us to turn up at ICAC that day and live tweet would not be an onerous task. Twitter has provided easy access to our audience, and journalists of all stripes, including Fairfax staff, have rushed to capitalise on Twitter in a way which outstrips mainstream media circulation by an unlimited degree.

That mainstream journalists want the right to access that free distribution network through live tweeting, and get paid, opens them to accusations of having a foot in both the problem and the solution for journalists worldwide.

WRITE REGARDLESSI defend my colleagues’ right to strike and I understand why they did so, but I will also defend any unpaid, unaffiliated citizen journalist who live tweets during a mainstream media strike, as long as they report the truth and they hashtag properly. Crorcet silplneg is oatpnoil.

And in the end, the only journo who crossed the picket line that day was a Fairfax employee.

An extract from Write, regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

The publish button killed the media

THE cancellation of the funding behind Australia’s flagship online news source The Global Mail sent shock waves through the local media, because many journalists were watching to see if the rise of the independent online media hub was a viable career lifeboat.

“What’s clear to me now is that the social media is the only media.”

The demeanour of journalist Mike Seccombe said it all, when he fronted-up for an interview on Friday’s ABC Breakfast News.

Virginia Trioli asked him whether there were other ways of funding The Global Mail. He exhaled, shrugged and replied that he is a journalist, not a money man.

I felt for him, because if 20,000 subscribers, a stable of top notch journos, and private backing are not good enough to make The Global Mail work, what the hell is?

Before things got too depressing, technical problems meant the interview had to be wrapped-up fast, and the inexpressible did not get articulated.

The inexpressible being, of course, that the media as we know it is in its death throes. It’s on the mat. The death rattle has begun. Wake up peeps, it’s happening, it’s really happening.

WHERE IT'S AT The Publish Button, we've all got one now!
WHERE IT’S AT The Publish Button, we’ve all got one now!

I could rail at the media moguls who have sold us out, but I’m calling The Publish Button the main culprit, that powerful little hyperlink which emerged on online blogging platforms a decade ago.

We flocked to it like gulls at a rubbish bin, and since digital technology was able to count the uptake, advertisers followed in an equally frenzied manner, until there were simply more pecks on The Publish Button than there were on all the print floors combined.

Twitter, Facebook and various forms of blogging now fulfill the very strong desire to be ‘published’ and ‘posted’, ‘liked’ and have our status ‘updated’ and ‘shared’.

Now, I’m not saying what we blog/post/tweet about is necessarily rubbish, but the bin is where it’s at peeps, the gulls are just not flocking to the mainstream media, which has been stripped, flogged and hung out to dry, journalistic job security with it.

The companies who made The Publish Button have become the new media moguls. They have no need to invest in ink, paper, print floors, newsagents, transport, and the tens of thousands of people who once staffed the media.

And without us even noticing, they have managed extremely well without journalists. A media which has no need to pay for content is every CEO’s dream.

Content flows freely to them, because The Publish Button is such effective bait.

Its lightning fast distribution is a stimulant like no other to wordsmiths. No barrier to participation, no editors to chase us, no pesky sub-editors to keep us nice, no delay in reaching our audience, and the ability to correct errors instantaneously… if we care about any of that, and there’s no requirement to.

If I StumbleUpon it I can Storify it, and I can say I’ve Reddit. I can Press my Words, I can show my Pinterest, I can Inst a Gram, I can meme like a Tumblr.

It’s all so liberating and wonderful… “Content is King!”, they say, to exhort us into creating great content, but it’s also free, and it’s left journalism with virtually no currency.

The social media’s advertising and subscription revenue, which is placing the corporations behind The Publish Button in stockmarket positions that have Rupert Murdoch worried, is not shared with the content creators of this new world media.

To complain any further about the mainstream media is just like a new government blaming the old: after a while, it just doesn’t hold true anymore.

So, where does journalism stand now the media is flatlining?

ARRESTING JOURNO Margo Kingston under arrest at the Leard Blockade. (Photo: Georgina Woods).
ARRESTING JOURNO Margo Kingston under arrest at the Leard Blockade. (Photo: Georgina Woods).

In February, 2014, No Fibs citizen journalist Margo Kingston showed by example what journalists can do with The Publish Button, by relocating to north-west NSW and reporting on the #leardblockade, where a group of activists held back the progress of the Maules Creek Mine.

Margo self-funded her Storify reports, put together by Tony ‘The Geek’ Yegles, which were uploaded onto No Fibs with a regularity that a mainstream news site would be envious of.

Twitter was utilised to distribute these short interviews, news items and reports to a growing audience.

What made it relevant was the depth of engagement, participation, and the provision of opportunities for the subject to contribute to the report.

This is possibly the true meaning of ‘social’ in social media, and it’s possibly what makes very tasty bits for the gulls to peck at.

If The Global Mail had attracted a few gulls to the edge of the bin they might not have reached this point. Their low-level social media engagement may well have been their Achilles heel, or was it their propensity to pay their journalists a decent salary?

WRITE REGARDLESSI’m not in a position to answer that. What’s clear to me now is that the social media is the only media.

There, I’ve said it. As a journalist, all I have to do is find a way to come to terms with it.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.