About the Study
Citizen journalism is emerging as a form of “bridge” media, linking traditional forms of journalism with classic civic participation.
The rule in hyperlocal citizen journalism is that no one size or shape fits all. This study, funded by the Ford Foundation, sought to take a snapshot in time of a robust phenomenon - specifically, the development of hyperlocal community news sites - that is changing and growing week by week.
J-Lab created a questionnaire intended to capture as much data as possible through in-depth interviews in the summer of 2006 with founders, owners or operators of a diverse group of 31 citizen media sites. We supplemented that data with an online survey in the fall of 2006. We specifically targeted readers, contributors and operators of the nearly 500 citizen media sites we could identify at the time; 191 participants responded to most or all of our 60 questions.
This report presents our analysis of that data as well as commentary from the 31 front-line innovators. It offers a baseline of motivations, methods of generating content, and measures of success.
While citizen journalism aspires to report on community, it aspires even more to build community.
In funding this research, the Ford Foundation wanted to determine whether these initiatives were a fad or a sustainable part of the community newscape. While it is early to draw firm conclusions about the sustainability of these sites and their ultimate place in the delivery of local news, we can discern clear patterns of organization, common motivations, common challenges, and a measure of self-reported optimism that hyperlocal citizen journalism will become a permanent feature of a new journalism mix.
Citizen journalism is emerging as a form of “bridge” media, linking traditional forms of journalism with classic civic participation. At ease with their attachments to their communities, citizen journalists are occupying civic spaces where professional journalists would only squirm, withering under the naked caring about community.
Citizen journalism ranks low on revenues and readers. It ranks high on perceived value and impact. While it aspires to report on community, it aspires even more to build community.
When invited to define “success” for their sites, survey respondents more often cited “civic participation” or “community building” than generating more revenue. Although, to be sure, many would like to be able to pay their citizen contributors, even if only token amounts.
Consider that of 111 respondents able to gauge their site’s success, 73% declared them already to be “successful” even if they were not profitable. More than half (51%) said that continued operation of their site did not require it to earn revenue. Asked how long they would stick with their efforts, more than 81% of the 141 respondents bypassed “1,” “2” or “3 to 4” years and instead asserted that they were in the game “indefinitely.”
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