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Eric Shackle: Citizen Reporters Everywhere

Citizen Reporters Everywhere


By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

One day last month Todd Cameron Thacker, Canadian senior editor (and a staff reporter) of OhMyNews International in Seoul, Korea, wrote in his personal blog, Sound of a Dog Eating Grass:

Well, it was definitely an interesting day. First we broke the 90 country mark with a new citizen reporter from Brunei. Then our oldest citizen reporter registered... he's 87! Wow!

It was a big day for me, too. I was that venerable reporter. I had just registered with four other citizen news sites as well: Scoop (Wellington, New Zealand), NowPublic (Vancouver, Canada), MySpace (global, based in US), and Brookmans Park Newsletter (UK). Four of the five have since published stories I offered them... Wow, wow, wow, wow!

These and similar citizen writers' websites, where the readers write the news, are sweeping the world and may help change the face of newspapers. Private citizens have begun to write their own news stories, to photograph news events with digital cameras, and to post them on websites within seconds of their happening. OhMyNews claims to have 35,000 citizen reporters, and NowPublic is said to have 16,000. Trained journalists polish the raw copy, check the facts, and sometimes rewrite the stories.

Newspaper owners and staffs face the greatest revolution in publishing since William Caxton printed the first book in the English language in 1474 and Ottmar Mergenthaler invented the linotype in 1884. If they don't adapt, they'll perish.

That's why Australian-born US media tycoon Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. last year forked out $580m (£310m) for the community website MySpace. The market research company NetRatings says MySpace visitors have tripled since the takeover. MySpace and its competitor, Bebo, were the fifth and sixth most-visited sites in the UK in April, more popular than the BBC's marvellous website.

Young adults aren't buying newspapers these days. They can't understand why their parents pay good money for ink and a processed log of wood flung over the front fence, containing stale news, while they themselves get up-to-the-minute news and action pictures from TV and the internet for free.

It would be a tragedy if newspapers don't survive. We need trained reporters and commentators to present breaking news in a professional form. Where would the world's myriad citizen reporters, talkback radio hosts and guests be if they were deprived of expert, well presented and reliable news items to dissect and discuss?

Many newspapers around the world, faced with falling sales and advertising revenue, are reluctantly admitting that radio, TV and the internet are better than they are in presenting up-to-the minute news.

In the US, Peter Meirs, director of alternative media at the magazine publisher Time Inc., predicted that new portable electronic reading devices would bring "the beginning of the end for paper" within five years. He said publishers should look to user-generated content sites like YouTube and Flickr for inspiration.

And in London, The Guardian is set to become the first British national newspaper to offer a "web first news service." Important news items will be posted online before they appear in the print paper (that's already happening in Sydney and elsewhere).

Both The Times and The Guardian are launching US editions, and BBC World is becoming available to US viewers. A BBC spokesman said a survey had shown that Americans were increasingly interested in international news, yet most US news networks were spending less air time covering it.


Links
OhMyNews
NowPublic
MySpace
Brookmans Park Newsletter
Are newspapers endangering the planet?



*************

For more details of citizen reporter websites, see a longer version of this story in the July issue of The World's First Multi-National e-Book, http://bdb.co.za/shackle/articles/oldest_citizen.htm

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