How Citizen Journalism Helps A Story Live On

Gaines_Jim.jpgAs we cover the media trends we’re looking forward to in 2010, today we’re focusing on citizen journalism and crowdsourcing — two similar concepts that promote engagement between reporters and people involved in the stories they’re covering.

To get us started on this topic, we spoke to Jim Gaines, the former managing editor at People, Time and Life magazines and current editor-in-chief of digital publication FLYP, about the possibilities of citizen journalism and the future of journalistic storytelling.

Gaines is a big proponent of using journalism to start a conversation, and using collaboration from readers to continue that conversation and coverage of a story. Although his own pub FLYP doesn’t have the infrastructure in place yet to accomplish his vision, Gaines thinks collaboration is the wave of the future.

“I think 2010 is going to be enormously important as a turning point for digital publishing in general, citizen journalism in particular, because the facility — and by that I don’t just mean the software and hardware, I mean the culture and other supportive elements — are just getting into place,” Gaines told us.

“Google Wave is a wonderful example of a collaboration, but there are so few people on it that it has no scale. I think that it is an interesting model for the storytelling of the future, which is not going to be a one-way story told. A story is going to be the beginning of a conversation and that story will be modified by the conversation that follows. I don’t know exactly what that model is going to look like because the experimentation is only beginning. But it’s very exciting.”

Facilitating this conversation will be the new devices that we await in 2010 — like the Apple tablet and the Microsoft Courier, Gaines said. These devices will allow you to read magazine and newspaper content and comment throughout stories in real time, sharing your comments with an audience as big as you choose. A reader’s thoughts might then inspire a follow-up, or more stories.

“We come from a model where you publish something once on paper and it goes into a library and it’s basically dead,” Gaines explained. “It then becomes primary source material for historians in the future. I think the model we’re talking about now is one where the story doesn’t die, it keeps living. And it lives on partly through the conversation it inspires. And then maybe you come back and you do the story again, with another chapter.”

As this sort of “citizen journalism” creates collaboration between journalists, editors and their readers, advertisers will be enticed by the engagement that’s created.

“Jeff Jarvis taught me something, which is that your distribution channel in this new world is your audience,” Gaines said. “They’re the people that link to you, they’re the people that bring people to you, they’re the people who talk about you. And that engagement that’s created by the collaboration — and here Jeff would disagree with me — is exactly where advertisers want to be. I think this is the solution to the dual revenue model problem that newspapers and magazines have. If they can get an audience that’s deeply engaged in what they’re purveying, and get that audience to pay, then advertisers will pay to be there, too.”

And as FLYP works to incorporate collaborative elements into its content, Gaines is looking forward to seeing more companies take on the challenge.

“There’s a lot of good citizen journalism going on, at ProPublica as an example,” Gaines said.

“Like anybody who has practiced journalism for a long time, it’s hard to get over a sense of proprietorship. The analogy to citizen doctor comes to mind. You don’t really want a citizen doctor. But everyone who is ever quoted in a story, who is not the journalist, is now what we are calling a citizen journalist. It’s what we used to call sources. These are extremely valuable. I think we should resist the temptation to judge the term ‘citizen journalist’ harshly because we are not familiar with the model we are in the middle of developing, so we can’t see where it’s going to be.”

Previously: Former Time Editor Jim Gaines: Did You Get The Memo?