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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Citizen media: Not there yet

My Harvard colleague Persephone Miel unveiled the results of months of labor (hers and her associates’) today: an in-depth evaluation of how far along “participatory media” — bloggers, citizen journalists, et cetera — are in complementing (or replacing) traditional Big Media. Her answer, if I may sum up 168 pages in a sentence: It’s just not there yet. Maybe some day. (I think she’s dead on.)

If you want more than a sentence but less than 168 pages, here’s how she summarizes her findings:

Participatory media is great, has lots of potential. But it’s not doing everything we have counted on journalism institutions to do and, left to its own devices, it never will. Those journalism institutions, never perfect, are in serious trouble. Many will save themselves, as businesses, but there is no guarantee they will maintain their commitment to doing the journalism we need. People who for whatever reason (time, money, skills, desire) are not taking charge of creating their own online news diet still deserve to have access to comprehensive credible sources of news.

The U.S. media system was not handed down from the heavens on tablets. It’s time to look at models from other countries — stronger public media, newspapers less dependent on advertising, etc. We do a lot of studying of online activity, but we don’t know nearly enough about how real people in the real world take in information from many sources and what that means for how journalism in the public interest needs to evolve. We, the people who care about the public getting the information it needs, must take the best from both worlds to build the media we need.

There’s lots more in the various sections of the study, including case studies of several new-media startups. We’ll have more tomorrow, but start digging into the findings today.

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Joseph Lichterman    Aug. 26, 2014
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  • Luke Beatty

    This analysis falsely assumes that participatory media is trying to / potentially capable of replacing traditional media. It cannot replace traditional media. Most participatory media operations do not endeavor to supplant it. Participatory / social media’s successes metrics are not the same as traditional media’s.

    -Luke Beatty
    Founder & President, Associated Content

  • Ian Bell

    “This analysis falsely assumes that participatory media is trying to / potentially capable of replacing traditional media.”

    Luke, I think you need to tell that to bloggers like TechCrunch and Alleyinsider. They would probably argue against your notion.

    Bloggers DO think they are mainstream media now. It’s very unfortunate.

  • Luke Beatty

    Hey Ian: “Bloggers” is a tough term – so we get into semantics. But, a trianed, credentialed, reputable journalist is a trained, credentialed, reputable journalist. Some bloggers and social media creators are all or some of the above, but the entire crowd is certainly not. Best, Luke

  • eric kai

    The real question is not if participatory media is trying to potentially replacing traditional media but when will traditional media start understanding the bloggers and how to be utilize them.

  • mediawiseguy

    Journalism education continues to fail in preparing students for the real world.They turn out,mostly, women who want to be anchors.Rarely produce assignment editors or producers. They foster the “maxheadroom” ,one man bands which subvert quality journalism.
    There is no common ground of information, no cognate requirements of merit, and few who can write anything.
    So, is it time for a complete overall of the j-school approach? Bloggers have offered little to the quest for unbiased, reporting. A generation able to produce content for any platform, needs to face an anaylsis of the value of their utterances.
    This report offers insight, but where, oh where are the solutions, certainly not in the offices of the current leadership of our universities.

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