Archive | July, 2011

Citizen Journalism: The Pro-Active Audience

Posted on 07 July 2011 by Garima Chak

The new age concept of Citizen Journalism started in the USA as a counter movement against the eroding trust in the media and widespread disillusionment in the public with politics and civic affairs. And what started then has now become a rather well known New Media concept. It is known today for various reasons and by many names. Titles like ‘public’, ‘participatory’, ‘guerrilla’ and ‘street journalism’ describe various perceptions this concept which, according to the seminal 2003 report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information, is basically a concept in which members of the public play an active role in “the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information”. The authors of the report, Bowman and Willis, opine that “The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.”

Citizen journalism, a part of New Media, is a form of citizen media and user generated media. It can be practiced at the individual level, or in groups etc. However this should not be confused with sections of journalism like ‘community journalism’ or ‘civic journalism’, which are practiced by working journalists, or for that matter, with ‘collaborative journalism’ which is practiced by both professional and non-professional journalists working together.

Basically then, citizen journalism is an act of unprofessional journalism, by anybody with or without professional training in the field. All that is required is a certain amount knowledge of modern technology tools and the World Wide Web. In fact, it is the global distribution of the internet that has made citizen journalism possible. As a result, anyone with a camera (of any sort) in his hand can today become a citizen journalist, just though a click, or videotaping of events and uploading them to the internet for example.
The term ‘journalism’ however does not limit the possibilities and growth prospects of this new found tool for the general public all across the world. Today citizen journalism has branched out into various sub-divisions formed by the netizens, for the netizens. The driving force however, has remained constant through the years- the desire of the general public to collect and spread reliable information.

Audience participation is one such branch of citizen journalism that is impacting the world of Marketing Communications so much so that it has forced the companies the world over are redefine policies, change strategies and outlook, rethink goals and objectives etc. But how did this unprofessional form of journalism having such a great impact on the extremely professional corporate world of today? The reason for this is hidden behind a little human weakness: the desire to talk! We humans love to communicate, not just to share our feelings, but to compare and analyze and discover new things as well. This is an inherent tendency found in every one of us, and it is this inherent tendency that has made ‘the word-of-mouth’ such a powerful instrument for Media and Marketing practitioners. And audience participation in the form of comments attached to news stories, blogging etc., both negative and positive, has therefore become a powerful instrument of divulging information that might lead to the unpopularity and shame of a the concerned company.

Audience participation is only the tip of the ice-berg though. The wings of citizen journalism have spread far beyond. And today aspects of it like participatory news sites, “thin media” like mailing lists & email newsletters, collaborative and contributory news sites, and personal broadcasting sites etc. are making citizen journalism a fast growing phenomenon of the 21st century. In fact, so widespread is its reach that it is almost impossible to remain uninfluenced by it as intentionally of otherwise we have all been touched by one or the other of its widespread branches.

Terry Flew, a new media theorist, states that open publishing, collaborative editing and distributive content are the three elements “critical to the rise of citizen journalism and citizen media.” In this respect, any form of citizen journalism would be accessible to anyone and everyone, thereby creating a common world platform where one and all stand at par with each other. However, the concept has attracted a reasonable amount of criticism as well. For instance, some critics disagree with the terminology used as the term ‘citizen’ in effect excludes all those refugees and immigrants without papers who do not legally belong to any nation-state, and are therefore citizens at all. Critics from traditional media institutions hold the view that citizen journalism has abandoned the traditional goal of ‘objectivity’. Others have found citizen journalism sites to be lacking in quality and content. Still these are only minor stumbling blocks in the path of this phenomenon. And, sure to be nurtured by the further growth of the New Media, citizen journalism will, with time, deepen its roots as it eradicates all that has lead to these, and other such criticisms.

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What Is News?

Posted on 04 July 2011 by Aakanksha Shahi

In common parlance, news is what is new. News is what everyone wants to know about. A newspaper office’s main concern is to gather news and report news-local, state, regional, national, and international. The basic understanding about news is essential for any editorial work in a newspaper, news agency and news magazine.

Definition of news:

There are several definitions of news. News may be defined as anything timely that interests a large number of people and the best news is that which has the greatest interest in greatest number of persons. In other words, news is the timely report of events, facts and opinions and interests a significant number of persons. News is a piece of information about significant and recent events that affect the audience and is of great interest to them.

By the above definitions one can understand the basic essence of news but not a concrete definition. This is because news is an abstract concept whose shape changes as the interests of humans change. (Reporting and Writing News, 1983). News is relative in nature. It changes with the changes in other factors related to it

News depends on factors like-

1. Size of the community (readers/viewers).

2. The periodicity of the publication (weekly, monthly etc).

3. The social character and economic base of the community.

4. The focus of attention or emphasis of the community.

John B. Bogart, city editor of New York, SUN defines news like this,” when a dog bites a man it’s not news but when a man bites a dog it is news.” He pointed out very correctly that unusual events fall under the purview of news.

The salient features of news are:

1. Perishable- when the event is understood and the tension is eased off, then       news gets less informative and becomes history.

2. News is of interest to large number of people.

3. News is unusual events and happenings.

4. News is new to people.

Hard news and Soft news:

Hard news is mostly event centric. It is the narration of an event. Hard news items are centered on “who , what, when, why, when and how.” It does not dig beneath the upper crust of the layer. It is informative but does not lead to interpretations. Major thrust of the newspaper is hard news.

Soft news on the other hand is becoming a very important segment of newspapers. Mere reporting of events does not satisfy the readers. They would like to enter beneath the upper crust of the hard news. They want reasons, backgrounders, interpretations, & analysis. This is called soft news.

Ingredients of news:

1.    Timeliness: news must be timely and new. It will not arouse interest if it is already known, or brought to notice long after its occurrence.

2.    Nearness and proximity: people are more interested in what happens under their nose in their village, city, country rather than some distant land. Similarly they are more interested in what has direct impact on them. E.g. the news that the price of rise may rise will make them sit up more than a report that the govt subsidy on fertilizers has been withdrawn.

3.    Conflict: people gather in a street when there is a fight or a conflict. Conflicts of all kinds make a good story.

4.    Prominence: what happens to important people makes news. The value of news increases with the prominence of the person/persons involved. former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi s assassination made world headlines but a murder of the village panchayat head will not arouse interest in people living in the city and will be carried only in the local newspaper.

5.    Government action plan: the passing of a new law or other orders concerning general public, cabinet meetings, parliament and assembly sessions, notification about rules and regulations are news worthy.

6.    Development projects and issues: this is not news about government action activities, though sometimes it will also qualify to be covered. The invention of high yield variety rice and its success in changing the life style is of interest to people.

7.    Human interest stories: people are interested in knowing what s happening to other people and about their lives. If a woman gives birth to quadruplets in a village, the story will interest everybody. In addition, oddities, humour, tragedy, triumph over handicap, motivational stories, bravery etc all make good human interest story.

8.    Weather and sports: both weather and sports generate a lot of interest in people and thus make important stories. Arrival of monsoons or cyclones is a front page story. An entire page or two is dedicated to sports.

9.    Follow up:  the news items become very interesting for people when followed up and updated timely. It is important to remember that follow up stories keep the reader s interest alive in the issue.

Fundamental qualities of news:

1.    Accuracy: accuracy is basic to any news item. When one fails in accuracy, he/she  loses credibility. Cross checking all  facts and figures is important. Check figures, names and facts. People usually get offended by misspelled names. If one is paraphrasing a speech from a text given, He/she should make sure to not change the meaning or quote statements out of context. Exclude rumour and gossip from the report. The reporting should be truthful.

2.    Balance: to be balanced in reporting is as important as being accurate. If one is writing about a controversy then he/she should make sure he is not biased. Give both sides of the story. While reporting a strike, for instance, give claim of the authorities and the workers on how far it is successful. A story may appear imbalanced and thus biased if much importance is given to the government’s point of view or the worker’s.

3.    Objectivity: One should not mix your opinion in the story. Report only facts. One should be a disinterested observer, reporting an event without taking sides.

4.    Clarity: A story maybe best in verbiage. The introductory statement should be brief and simple. It should be relevant to the topic and should be in active voice to the maximum extent possible. The ideal length of the paragraph should be about 4-5 lines containing small sentences to facilitate easy understanding. The news report should be written in the inverted pyramid style.

5.    Impact: whenever one does news report, consider the impact the story will create: Will it induce some changes for the better or will it incite people negatively?

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