Now South Africa has its own citizen journalism website in Johnnic’s commendable reporter.co.za
The relentless pace of technology is turning everyone into citizen reporters. Anyone with a cellphone camera is a potential citizen photographer. Anyone with a blog is a potential citizen reporter or columnist.
Citizen journalists both collaborate and compete with established media. The bigger blogs for example compete for stories, audience and sometimes even advertising revenue.
A handful of bloggers are raking in bigger readerships than many established news sites. Bloggers are scooping stories, attending press conferences and being accredited alongside journalists.
In a widely-read speech last year media tycoon Rupert Murdoch said that traditional media were missing a trick and needed to harness the citizen reporting revolution. The sly old fox said: “What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them. They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it… They want news that speaks to them personally, that affects their lives.”
“So unless we awaken to these changes, which are quite different to those of five or six years ago, we will, as an industry, be relegated to the status of also-rans. But, properly done, they are an opportunity to actually improve our journalism and expand our reach.”
Ever since blogs have popularised the internet and made it more accessible as a personal writing platform, big media have been trying to work out how to jump in and grab their slice of the action.
So its no surprise that big media house Johnnic launched South Africa’s first organised and substantial stab at a citizen journalism website, reporter.co.za. On the site, news articles, photos, audio and video footage are submitted by registered citizen reporters. In its first few weeks there were an impressive 1 480 reporters registered on the site. And what publication is South Africa can boast a reporter base as big as that?
Reporter.co.za may do exactly what Murdoch says — it should enhance Johnnic’s journalism and broaden the company’s reach. What better way to get scoops and stories than to invite the public submit them?
Will it work? Well if the objective is to get tip-offs, scoops and the occasional piece for Johnnic’s established media brands, then the answer would be an unequivocal yes.
But if reporter.co.za is to become a successful news brand, attracting a big audience and selling advertising – it would really depend on the depth, breadth and quality of content from its army of citizen reporters.
We’ll just have to see whether reporter.co.za will become an interesting online news destination in itself. Big media organisations have a way of attracting top talent and maintaining high standards through organised corporate, salaried structures, which should ultimately result in a good publication.
When you indiscriminately invite the whole world to write for you, you may be heading for mediocrity. What counts in reporter.co.za’s favour is that number power may guarantee it some good offerings. The site also has a group of senior editors to ensure only the good stories get through.
But would we ever see a citizen journalist Kirby, Matshikiza or Bullard? And let’s say they were discovered, would they continue writing for a R30-a-story citizen journalist site? If not — how would you prevent the site from being ordinary and amateurish?
It’s also going to be a challenge to ensure accuracy and motivation and stop deliberate fabrication and vandalism, because the site’s editors have no more than a cursory relationship with most of their writers.
Juliette Saunders, the site’s editor, says reporter.co.za will also act as a recruitment base for the company. It’s a good strategy that will probably reap dividends, but what does it say about the publication itself when one of the aims is to recruit its own promising journalists elsewhere?
Where the site will succeed is filling a niche in reporting local and community news — an area that big media, with the exception of community newspapers, doesn’t do particularly well.
Reporter.co.za is a brave, exciting initiative and Johnnic should be commended for it. But if reporter.co.za is to be a successful news brand in itself, the real test will not be how many citizen reporters sign up, but how many readers the site gets.