An Agency for the Citizen Reporter

By | June 5, 2006

My friend Saigon-based Graham Holliday has helped launch a words version of Scoopt, the world’s first commercial citizen journalism photography agency. With Scoopt Words :

[w]e believe that your blog writing can be every bit as valuable as professional journalism. It’s the same idea that lies behind Scoopt the picture agency: in the right circumstances, amateur photography is just as valuable as professional photography… as we have proven again and again.

So if your content is valuable, why shouldn’t you be paid for it? Why is it OK for a newspaper to lift your words or publish your writing for free just because you’re an ‘amateur’? If it’s good enough to print, it’s good enough to pay for.

Great idea, a bit like BlogBurst, I guess, a syndication service that places your blog content on top-tier online destinations, though BlogBurst doesn’t pay you, so perhaps closer in spirit to OhmyNews, which ScooptWords quotes approvingly. Rightly so; OhmyNews helped to overturn South Korean media and throw a few people out of office. (OhmyNews has recently teamed up with the International Herald Tribune to swap headline links on each others’ websites.)

I like the ScooptWords idea, but I have my reservations. ScooptWords’ FAQ quotes an essay by Betty Medsger, former Washington Post reporter and Professor of Journalism, “about the knowledge and experience of many professional journalists”, suggesting that one shouldn’t feel intimidated by the power of the traditional press. But Medsger’s message wasn’t quite that. She did point out that most journalists who have won awards and fellowships never studied journalism, but her conclusion was not that experience wasn’t necessary, in fact, it may be, she says, quite the opposite:

Journalists put information and ideas from other disciplines into public vessels of various kinds — breaking news stories, investigative pieces, analytical work, cultural criticism. These non-journalism graduates clearly know how to think journalistically, and they are adept at filling various vessels with quality work. But their thinking and learning did not originate in journalism education programs. Mentors in newsrooms apparently have been their teachers. Or perhaps it was experience itself, which again is not surprising.

I never studied journalism either, and I don’t know many folk outside the U.S. (and a couple in Australia) who did. But the newsroom experience sure has helped. Those mentors are pretty useful people, even if they drive you nuts eventually.

I’m not opposed to citizen journalism, or bloggers selling their work to traditional media outlets. I think it’s an important step to dismantle some of the walls around the ivory tower that is many journalists’ citadel. Many have important things to say, and an eyewitness report of a significant event is always going to be the best journalism anybody will ever write or read. But what I think will happen, should happen, is that this new influx should help improve and better define journalism, to refine the standards journalists allegedly abide by, rather than ignore or belittle those standards. Journalists should understand bloggers. But bloggers and citizen reporters also need to understand journalists.

Hopefully Scoopt Words will help do just that. More strength to you, Graham.

4 thoughts on “An Agency for the Citizen Reporter

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  2. Graham

    Thanks for the plug Jeremy. My feeling, and it is just a feeling, is that there is a definite desire by a hardcore of bloggers, citj’s, opensource newsgatherers or whatever they’re being called this week that they WANT to learn. They want to be more journalistic. Not all, but enough.

    It was quite an eye opener at the We Media conference in London a month back. I met smalltown bloggers and heads of respected old media outlets. The common ground for all was passion, integrity and an absolute committment to getting the story right regardless of the medium.

    Now, your average Joe blogger may not have newsroom experience, a factchecking department or the first idea what a ‘hook’ is, but that doesn’t mean to say they can’t report.

    I read a quote recently that I kind of agree with,

    “It might be easier to train a good blogger how to be a journalist than it is to train a good journalist how to be a blogger”

    At the moment I think it’s the bloggers that are doing way more of the learning. The journalists are still, for the most part, unaware of what’s happening to their profession – sorry, I’ll rephrase that – What’s already happened to their profession.

    ScooptWords is a bridge, one of many that will no doubt surface over the coming months and years. We don’t have it perfect just yet, but we do believe fundamentally that, regardless of it’s source, if content is good enough to print then it’s good enough to pay for.

    Now, with ScooptWords, there’s a transparent, paying route to market for bloggers. That’s a first.

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