Citizen journalism, an opportunity rather than a threat

The newspaper industry has long seen Internet as a threat. The reason is clear: the old business model is endangered by the possibilities that the immense network offers all those who have time to write. The importance acquired by social networks and blogs as sources of information have made them a permanent part of the landscape, one which the traditional media must deal with. Opinions are divided about this new situation. On the one hand, there are those who think that these new ‘citizen sources’, without any qualifications or experience as journalists per se, may, bit by bit, take over the position of the professionals working in the information business or, at least, live side by side with them as equals, offering fresh news that is close to the reader without the need for any intermediaries. On the other hand, there are those that reject outright the possibility of non-professional voices, or at least those who are not journalists, who work separately from the newspaper companies, starting to compete and share media with journalists.

Without doubt, social networks, blogs and other online tools are here to stay. It is also clear that not being a journalist is not necessarily synonymous with a lack of quality or rigour. Yet there is definitely still a need for information professionals to publish well-prepared and selected news stories, someone to act as a mediator between this new writer and his potential public, composed of the enormous mass of voices and public. For this reason it is possible that the solution is to be found halfway between those who support the total opening up of the forms of information and those who reject any such move in this direction.

At present, anyone can make use of the unlimited possibilities that Internet offers, immediately starting to create street journalism without any obstructions, being both journalist and editor at the same time. Using media such as Facebook or Twitter, they can offer their stories to a global public, without any filters. This is information that, for the first time, does not have to be sent to readers through any mediator, that is, via the mass media, in the traditional sense of the word. The latter perceive this situation as a threat when, in fact, it would be make more sense to start seeing it as an opportunity, as another part of the transformation that is taking place at the moment.

Newspapers enjoy a unique advantage: their brand, the seal of trust, of quality, which they have built over many years that, at least until now, gives them credibility, and generates confidence among their public. From this starting point, they must start to integrate this citizen journalism which is pushing to be heard.

Essentially, these new forms of citizen journalism offer the traditional media a source of information that may prove to be extremely important. Through blogs and other types of portals, a citizen may put journalists onto the trail of an interesting story, or may even offer himself good copy. The goal is to include these active audiences within the media’s environment. A good way of doing this could be through the creation of some sort of clubs aimed at readers through which they may actively participate in the news production process.

After this, it is the newspaper in question which must moderate and select the information, not in the sense of censorship, but rather as a quality filter; if there is something that the media must maintain at all costs, it is quality. In a context in which information flows through different media, in massive amounts, often in a very “raw” state, quality must continue to be a distinguishing feature.

It is thus possible to create a relationship that benefits both parties. On the one hand, the newspaper is enriched by different perspectives on local subjects, close to their public; on the other, this citizen journalism becomes of greater relevance and scope, more than just a blog. Newspapers clearly cannot afford to remain rooted in the past; instead, they must embrace the new technological advances that have taken root. Ignoring them will not make them go away.