My thoughts on citizen journalism

Unlike a lot of people in my line of work, I suspect, I’m a big fan of citizen journalism. I read it, and I participate in it. Perhaps I could be a bit more active, but I write something when the mood hits me. My recent stories have been on private equity investment trends in China and the manufacture of phthalate-free dildos. So, why do I do it?

Honestly, I don’t have to. I have gained some decent traction as a freelance writer this year, with articles in Penthouse and Boston magazine, not to mention some high-profile rejections. And, my work is picked up routinely by Fleshbot and ValleyWag … and from time to time by Gawker. So, I shouldn’t have to “stoop so low,” right?

Wrong.

I find that citizen journalism does a few things right. First, it is a great way to communicate as much news as possible. Quite frankly, the publishing business is designed to let good stories fall through the cracks. You have to pitch the mag, hope our idea aligns well enough with its editorial calendar and finally write and publish. This means that several good stories fall away. I had one pitch go out to several high-profile magazines. All said it was a great story, just not right for them. This wasn’t a line of shit. If they didn’t care, they would have ignored me (which has happened in the past).

So, a lot of good stuff is never communicated. I think that’s a damned shame.

Next, citizen journalism makes it easy to get news out quickly. When I get a story, I can go right to “press.” Normal, mainstream publications don’t work that way. Even if you have a good relationship with an editor and publish online instead of in print (which I prefer), it can still take a few days to get a story out. It’s easy to get scooped (happened to me by a day with the Zivity story I wrote for AVN Online in January 2008).

Finally, citizen journalism empowers the people closest to the news. If you seen news happen, you can get the story out. Fast. Easy. The way it’s supposed to be done.

Sure, most citizen journalism websites lack the writing panache of major publications, but they make up for it with breadth of coverage. If nothing else, the readers get to decide … resulting in a market-driven solution. Since newspapers and magazines are not non-profits, it should be the readers who decide winners and losers. This is a great formula.

Citizen journalism seems to be gaining steam. Popular website OhmyNews.com, which is mostly non-United States, continues to get copious amounts of press coverage. I noticed today that art market blogger Nick Forrest, of ArtMarketBlog.com, has begun to write art market opinion pieces for my current citizen journalism fave, DigitalJournal.com. Whether he is just looking to drive traffic to his blog or has become a citizen journalism convert, the fact that he is writing at all– let alone voluminously– tells the whole story. He is investing his time in citizen journalism.

“Real” journalists may feel that citizen journalism is beneath them, but I don’t think they realize that this is yet another threat to the old way of doing business that they seek to defend. The old school journalists are losing. They tried to stay in print, and the web has gained momentum. They tried to rely on “proper” journalism, but the blogs have encroached on their market. Now, there is yet another threat, and it is developing a readership.

The old way of doing journalism continues to lose ground.

If nothing else, I like citizen journalism for the instant gratification. When I come upon a story, I can write it and post it immediately. I get feedback quickly. Further, the major blogs evaluate the story on its merits rather than where it was published. Both Fleshbot and ValleyWag have picked up my stories for Digital Journal and OhmyNews. They are looking at the information rather than the masthead. This shows me that the world is changing.

I vote for citizen journalism with my time. You should, too.

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