These sites are driven by people with passion for their communities rather than interest in profits. They are aided by technology that lets them produce and distribute their products much cheaper than traditional print and broadcast media.
Journalists who look down their noses at some of these sites do so at their own risk. The citizen media don´t practice traditional journalism, but they have attracted local audiences. These are among the findings of a study, Citizen Media: Fad or the Future of News? produced by Jan Schaffer, executive director of the J-Lab in College Park, Md.
J-Lab identified hundreds of citizen media sites, surveyed 191 site operators and interviewed 31 in depth.
The key findings:
-- Citizen media is emerging as a form of bridge media, linking traditional media with forms of civic participation.
-- No one size fits all; there are many models.
-- Instead of being comprehensive sources of news, sites are forming as fusions of news and schmooze.
-- Most citizen sites don't use traditional metrics -- unique visitors, page views or revenues -- to measure their success.
-- Success is often defined as impact on their community.
-- Half of our respondents said their sites don't need to make money to continue.
-- Yet there are new kinds of media companies starting to emerge.
-- There is a high degree of optimism that citizen news sites are here to stay.
-- Finding ways to attract more contributors and some operating support are major challenges.
We think citizen media sites will become an enduring part of the emerging newscape.
While we think many individual sites will collapse as their founders burn out, others will arise to take their place. With this study, we urge those who can help build capacity in this arena to pay attention.
Legacy media companies: Think about partnering -- and even supporting -- successful sites, not competing with them. Journalism schools: Pursue the possibilities of citizen media sites as learning laboratories. Community foundations: Be alert to real possibilities for building community capacity.
More information and resources are available at
The Knight Citizen News Network, which is an initiative of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, a center of the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. It is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.