Local Democracy in the Information Age

This entry is part of my research project for the class of Networked Rhetoric at Stanford University. For more information, click here.

Journalism began to change drastically with the birth of the Internet in the early nineties, when some newspapers began to post their content to the web. By the turn of the century, almost every newspaper in the country could be accessed online in its entirety. Today, many local newspapers are having trouble adopting successful online business models. In just the first half of 2009, 105 local newspapers were discontinued and 10,000 newspaper workers lost their jobs. Because so many local newspapers have died, millions of United States citizens now get their local news through online blogs. My research involves analyzing whether or not blogs are able to effectively report local news. This is important since without local news, we cannot make informed decisions about the issues that affect us and our community.

In an article from The Online Journalism Review, Jason Stverak answers questions that many critics have about citizen journalism: With the accelerating decline of professional investigative journalists at state-wide newspapers and television stations, how is corruption supposed to be exposed? Who is scrutinizing the mountain of public records and attending meetings? Who is developing sources and asking tough questions to expose fraud, corruption and waste? Stverak mentions a sleu of breaking news stories that citizen journalists uncovered and reported. For example, an online citizen journalist in Texas recently discovered that the Department of Homeland Security lost nearly 1,000 computers in 2008. But Stverak only gives examples of successful citizen journalism in national news. Local news is never mentioned. This might simply be because local news, for the citizen journalist, is not as profitable as national news. As Kristen Johnson, an assistant professor in the communications department at Elizabethtown Collgee, said, “Most citizen journalists are not paid anything for their work and lack the motivation to help a for-profit entity continue to make a profit. Citizens cannot and should not be viewed as free labor.” Still, citizen journalism might play a role that traditional journalism cannot.

David Kravitz, Stanford University

This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Student Research, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Local Democracy in the Information Age

  1. ccrvisitor says:

    Haha looks like all 1 people who have taken the poll so far agree with me.

    I think there can be a mix. Hired journalists should advertise themselves as people who do that tougher, long term research, as opposed to citizens, whose blog posts are not as well drawn out or investigated. I just think that the need is shifting. We don’t need to hire people to write articles on their opinions anymore. We have people doing that in their blogs for free.
    Where are you going with your argument? Are you trying to propose a strategy for journalists to keep their jobs? Is this just a watch out essay telling people that things are changing?


  2. ccrvisitor says:

    I agree with Zach. I think there definitely needs to be a mix of professional journalists and citizen journalists. I feel that professional journalists are definitely trusted more due to their experience and expertise. I don’t think I could ever completely trust a news article written by a blogger, unless the blogger somehow establishes ethos in the same way that a professional journalist does through his/her credentials.

    Citizen journalists are really good for very spontaneous situations or situations tough for professional journalists to get to quickly. I remember watching coverage on the earthquake in Haiti, and a lot of the coverage was done by citizen journalists simply because they were there at the time, and professional journalists weren’t. I think citizen journalists definitely give another perspective to news, but I’m not sure I would ever completely trust them more than professional journalists.

    As for your topic, I think you definitely have to focus it more. Like Zach, I’m not really sure what your argument is. Is your argument just whether blogs can effectively report local news? Or is it something larger than blogs? I can see the local news blog thing being a little too narrow (mostly because I’ve never actually read one), but that’s just my biased opinion.

    -Christopher Sung

  3. ccrvisitor says:

    I really like your topic. It goes very well with the idea of authority when reporting the news. Clearly, we have an issue here, since citizen journalists don’t have the same sources as professional journalists, they are not as trained and they don’t have to follow a code when it comes to bias/ways of researching, reporting, etc. However, they might also bring something fresh, and they might uncover things that professional journalists are not allowed to uncover.

    I think you can analyze a bit the present of news blogs by looking at the future, at least in the conclusion of your research. Do you think that one day these bloggers are actually going to have a subscription fee? Will they make a name for themselves without the back-up of a newspaper? Are we going to become more misinformed due to their maybe false news?

    Also, regarding newspapers – they have to adapt, this is a certainty. And many people that have been laid off were probably just useful for the printed edition. You can analyze ways in which some newspapers succeeded in going online – such as NY Times or the Washington Post. And you should maybe also look at the fact that all these online versions of the newspapers have blogging parts – are these just like the op-ed parts of the printed version? Are these also a threat to authority? Many questions can be asked.

    Good luck!

  4. Tina says:

    Hi David,

    I’m really interested in what your conclusion to this essay. However, I agree with the others about the direction your essay is taking. Will you be analyzing why local news is unpopular even in online blogs? How will you effectively connect citizen journalism to the transition of local news to blog posts?

    I also agree with Zach about citizen journalism. While at times they can be reporters, credibility should remain with professional journalists. In my opinion citizen journalism can be proven useful but does not have the effectiveness that professional journalism does.

    Overall an interesting topic but you may want to narrow your topic a little more. Good luck!!

  5. Lauren Thomas says:

    What an interesting topic! Very insightful observations. I, like the other four poll voters, chose the second option: We can indeed use both types of journalists, though their different styles and methods of putting out information have effects of which we, as readers, need to be well aware.

    On one hand, bloggers seem to have a great deal of creative freedom. They can incorporate videos, photograph slideshows, links, etc. to enhance their articles, and this multimedia is attractive to readers. Print journalists, however, are limited to a very two-dimensional, inky realm that, once published, remains permanent. Consequently, print journalists must be more careful and work with greater caution, since they can’t log on and edit every time something new comes up. But bloggers are more frequently available to post and, in their vast multitude, more present throughout the globe to readily comment on world happenings.

    Other commenters have mentioned that you need to find a more specific “focus”, and I agree. Remember that bloggers often put ads on their sites to raise revenue, and the more attractive their news blog, the more visitors that are likely to visit their site and this, like national news, can be rather profitable. Maybe you can try to focus on how this evolution of compensation has affected investigators’ motivation to find the juicy stuff.

  6. christinealfano says:

    Great use of the poll in your post! It definitely generated discussion — and I, like your other readers, felt quite validated when I chose the option that everyone else chose. Does that poll confirm your own claims?

    Since I’ve read your proposal as well, I can say that you’ve done an even better job here of crystallizing the connection between local news, local government, and citizen blogging. You still have some conceptual work to do, but you are definitely making progress on this project.

    I’ll be interested to see how you continue to focus your ideas. I think that idea of a case study might be a good one for your to pursue.

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