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Citizen ‘blogging to hit the headlines?

Maybe it’s the irony, or that it’s just funny that the biggest news story in recent times just isn’t being told. Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Newspapers and citizen ‘bloggers in ‘Net news coverage blackout scandal!

I got an email from Colombian Carol, informing me of a paid-for ‘blogging offer on Springwise:

“Understanding that citizen journalists are just as happy to be paid for their work as editors on a newspaper’s payroll, the Swedish version of Metro newspaper recently launched get-paid-per-view blogging.”

Which caught my eye, as this is precisely the kind of thing I’d been harpin’ on about myself some time ago:

“Anyone can set up a blog at Metrobloggen.se, which integrates blog creation tools with a system for micro-payments. As soon as an individual blog achieves 5,000 pageviews per month, Metro sets up a bank account and sends the author a MasterCard that’s credited with 150 Swedish kronor (USD 20 / EUR 16). Adhering to fiscal regulations, the media company deducts social security fees and withholds income tax.”

The article goes on to talk about how ‘a number of popular metrobloggers’ – none of which are mentioned, incidentally – ‘previously published their own blogs on other platforms or their own websites’ and some other general sales guff, but it’s more the idea that intrigues me.

Sure, this is a foreign language endeavor, so I don’t qualify, but again, it’s the seed of an idea that mirrors my own thinking.

On occasion, my prognostications do hit pay dirt, and the whole newspaper meets ‘blogging thing was obviously one of them:

“Recently, a number of developments seemed to come together in my mind. However, the original spark came about when Thomas Power of Ecademy fame asked the question: is ‘blogging a threat to news or a complementary channel?

One specific question in that article prompted my first response, that question being: ‘So do the New York Times, the Financial Times, News International and their like have anything to fear from this and from ‘blogging generally?’

To which my answer was:

‘I can’t see any of them slipping up, not at this stage in the game.

Plus, they’re mostly offering distinctly different services from each other, so there’s not a tremendous amount of competition.

What I will say is, I’d wager that the BBC are the first in there with a leading [‘blog-based] implementation…’

Latterly followed up with:

‘I think the simple answer to the [original] question [in the article] is: both!

If you look at both mainstream media sources and ‘blogs, there will be a higher proportion of ‘noise’ with regards to ‘blogs, simply because ‘blogging is essentially free.

Whereas mainstream media is less tolerant, or should I say, the paying public are less tolerant of poor quality publications. Therefore those that aren’t any good go out of print.

However, of those ‘blogs that garner the heavy traffic, you’re looking at people who know their stuff, so that’s competition, plain & simple.

But then you have the average ‘blogger who rattles out an article with a simple quoted first paragraph and then a link to the full article, that’s just complimentary.

Personally, I think if we dispense with the idea of competition and simply think in terms of convergence, you have something truly monumental waiting in the wings.

What happens when mainstream media publications go web[-based] full-time and allow people to feedback into their articles?

Or, allow submissions from the readers? Articles that better serve a smaller, more local readership, thus drawing in fringe audiences that wouldn’t normally buy in[?]

In addition, you’ve got a dialogue in progress, people are talking, discussing, sharing ideas .. reading adverts!

I see a business model in the making…’”

But it’s not all plain-sailing, though. As an example, Google found themselves in a courtroom in Belgium trying to both clarify and justify why they think they’re not stealing advertising revenue from the regular media sources who operate on-line:

“It’s not as if Google didn’t know what they were taking on when they started offering a news service. After all, they were turning news coverage into an Internet commodity.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Well, on the face of it, the average web surfer wins, but are the news media publications the losers?

‘Buoyed by a Belgian court ruling this week that Google was infringing on the copyright of French and German language newspapers by reproducing article snippets in search results,…’

So the initial cursory while somewhat naive first impression would be to say: well, if the news is freely available on the Internet in the first place, then what are these publisher guys complaining about? And the answer is a simple one: loss of advertising revenue and ambiguous content ownership, or copyright.”

So as well as creating a more socially and culturally inclusive media presence, there’s real money at stake.

And if these guys at Metrobloggen get their way, they’ll be handing some of that money back to you, the ‘blogger in the front line.

Now that does change things somewhat. After all, it’s one thing to contribute to a new source in terms of ‘in the field’ coverage as it happens, but there’s the issue of monetary reward for doing so.

Clearly then, the situation moves towards that of freelance journalism, selling their story to the highest bidder. But what if there’s not just you at the scene as the news breaks? What’s to separate you and your coverage from that of the other average Joe armed with his 4 megapixel camera phone?

Quality would be as good as place to start as any, I suppose.

Is this just one last nail in the coffin of professional journalism? No. That’s like saying street buskers will put the Rolling Stones out of business.

Another example would be the professional photojournalist, who may or may not have a harder time of things in the future due to digital cameras and camera-equiped mobile phones, since they they too aren’t as numerous as the citizen on the street.

So maybe in the future, there may not be any real distinction between journalist or photojournalist. Maybe they’ll become one and the same?

Right now, there’s room for everyone at the table and the grand prize is always-on news coverage, which will ultimately bring its own rewards.

Additionally, the trend is increasingly edging towards an on-line future for the consumption of news, at least in Europe:

“To some, the daily newspaper is an institution. A bastion of commentary and the dissemination of free speech in print form. To others, an anachronism and others still, food wrapping and then landfill. And to us Europeans, the newspaper is yesterdays news.

‘The Internet has overtaken newspapers and magazines as Europeans’ main source of news and feature-type information, according to a new study.

On average, Europeans spend an average of four hours per week online, compared to three hours reading newspapers and magazines, it added. In 2003 they spent only two hours a week online.’”

So it seems fitting then that paid-for citizen ‘blogging should come first to a European newspaper, even if it’s not one of the more better-known sources.

And across the Atlantic, I imagine these developments aren’t going unnoticed. In addition to Google piloting printed advertising, Yahoo! were rumoured to be in the market for buying a newspaper to help bolster their broader media ambitions:

“What with Google shifting some of its considerable weight towards old school ‘off-line’ advertising, we’re now starting to feel the first tremors of that seismic shift:

‘Yahoo! announced this morning a partnership with a number of large newspaper chains, controlling a total of 176 publications, to share content and functionality. Both Yahoo! and local papers around the US are in a state of crisis, which is amazing if you consider the market and mind shares both still control. Will this partnership make a significant difference for either party? I don’t think it will.’

That sort of reminds me of a headline from March this year: “Should Yahoo buy a newspaper?”

‘Last week, McClatchy announced it would pay $4.5 billion to acquire newspaper publisher Knight-Ridder. McClatchy also said it planned on selling 12 of the chain’s papers, including Silicon Valley’s hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News … Yahoo could become the international test bed for the transition we all know is coming in print journalism. (One place it could start is fulfilling the promise of the under-utilized SiliconValley.com asset that Knight Ridder has failed to nurture)…’”

But with ‘blogging – which is essentially journalism of a kind, and certainly the better ‘bloggers are at the upper end of the scale – comes the perplexing conundrum-like question of free speech, and all of its associated baggage:

“There seems to be a real and very worrying misunderstanding of what ‘freedom of speech’ is really about.

In my mind, free speech is about adding to a dialogue, not subtracting from and diminishing in such a way as to make the dialogue meaningless.

If we’re to replicate society on the ‘Net, then we must do so completely, not half-heartedly, or why do it at all?

Also, to do so incompletely would probably leave behind some very important social norms that are essential to the whole social web thing.

When I talk to friends, I do just that. I don’t invite random people along, nor do I ask other people’s opinions of our collective views, should they be in any way aligned.

When I’m in mixed company, I try to keep a civil tongue in my head and hold off turning the air blue with expletives.

Right now, I get the very distinct feeling that some hot-head reading this is already at boiling point ‘coz I’m gittin’ all preachy, ‘n’ stuff.

Well guess what? This is my house and these are my rules, OK? Fortunately, these rules are shared by almost everyone else in the civilized world.

See what I did there? I exercised my right to free speech.”

Change is the driving force of all things known to man and beyond. While I’m not going to step forward, finger held aloft and hazard a guess as to where news coverage and consumption will be in 5 or even 10 years from now, what I can say is we now are not just active participants in the news, we’re becoming part of the process of capturing the news:

“News is about the human story. Whether you’re watching an earthquake consume entire cities, oceans lay waste to towns & villages or politicians send young men & woman to their deaths, you’re watching a social commentary unfold through peoples’ lives as seen through the eyes and spoken on the lips of those that are the news.

So it is fitting that after all of this time, we, the humble viewer now get to add our commentary to those voices more distant but no less vocal than our own.

So well done you! And let’s have more of the same in 2007…”

And 2008, ’09, ’10 and beyond…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “Citizen ‘blogging to hit the headlines?”

Craigslist poses a greater threat to newspapers than the blogging journalist. Newspapers survive by their classified ad revenue, and they need to get real creative about what they can sell there now that Craigslist, Monster, EBay and others are stealing away their monompoly on job listings and garage sale crap.
Catherine, the redhead

Hi Catherine and thanks for the comment.

Yes, the likes of Craigslist, Monster, eBay have the potential to hit revenues, there’s no doubting that.

But what’s to stop the bigger newspapers cutting deals with these guys?

Although, I think Craigslist might be a harder deal to secure.

But if you’re wanting people to sift through classifieds, then you’re going to want compelling content to draw people in…

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