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National News

Thursday, 6 December, 2007 0:10 AM

Citizen Journalism: A Powerful New Trend in Reporting the "News"

Tired of feeling unrepresented by the media machine? The solution is citizen journalism, which allows writers and viewers alike to decide for themselves what is timely, relevant, and newsworthy. Paul Sullivan, editor in chief of Orato.com, offers his insights.

NEW YORK —A few short years ago when a big story broke, the nation would anxiously wait for reporters to share the scoop with the folks at home. Today, the image of families crowded around the TV has a slightly anachronistic feel, almost as though the flat screen set is the glowing radio of WW II lore. The ubiquitousness of the Internet has changed everything. Not only does news travel faster, it may be accessed via any Web site, blog, or virtual community of your choosing. No surprise, then, that "we the people" are not only shaping how we get the scoop, we're demanding a hand in dishing it out as well.

"Journalism is changing right alongside the technology that brings it to us, and a whole new style of reporting has emerged," says Paul Sullivan, a veteran newspaper editor and editor in chief of citizen journalism site Orato.com. "Listen closely. That sound you detect is nothing less than the powerful voice of the people demanding to be heard."

What is citizen journalism? As the name suggests, it's the act of untrained everyday citizens assuming the role of reporter and sharing their stories in the first person. And it's not just some "fringe" movement; it's becoming downright mainstream. This month, as massive wildfires ripped across Malibu, San Diego, and other parts of the California countryside, CNN begged for eyewitness accounts of the live destruction for their "I-View" news segments—showing that even big networks acknowledge the growing need to involve the masses in history-making newscasts.

Sullivan says Orato.com, founded byentrepreneur Sam Yehia, was born from this desire to give average people with extraordinary (and ordinary) stories an outlet for sharing what they know. This interactive Web site is a grassroots platform from which citizen journalists can tell it like it is and have their stories acknowledged by hundreds of thousands of visitors a month. And what's more exciting is if the audience likes a story, they can tip the author online!

"'Orato' comes from the Latin word meaning 'I speak,'" says Sullivan. "It's hard for today's news machine to do justice to current issues and the real experiences of people involved in them. We showcase vivid, first-person stories from individuals involved in current events or living amazing lives. Whether it is politics, sports, entertainment, science, love, or war, Orato.com captures news and stories in their rawest form. We are a celebration of every person's right to be heard in his or her own words."

Whereas most news stations tend to lean a little (or perhaps a lot) to the left or right, Orato.com covers all kinds of stories and opinions. For example, recent entries include a compelling argument on gun control alongside a first-person account from a minuteman. Anyone can post a story, and if you don't fancy yourself a writer, you can share your viewpoint via audio, video, or photo essay.

The key difference between Orato.com and traditional media? On Orato.com, the subject owns the story. Everyone who shares his or her story gets the final editorial cut. "It's their story," says Sullivan. "Why shouldn't they get to tell it the way they want to tell it?"

Orato.com divides its stories into several categories. For instance:

  • Current Events
  • E-Buzz
  • Mysteries
  • Love & Sex
  • Sports
  • Travel & Adventure
  • Health & Science
  • Lifestyles
  • Arts & Entertainment


In addition, readers will find a newsletter to which they can subscribe, along with the option to join Orato Village, an interactive writer's community. The possibilities are virtually endless.

Since its inception in 2006, Orato.com has steadily picked up steam. Currently, the site receives dozens of submissions each week, and the numbers are only increasing. Sullivan says Orato.com's growing popularity is a gauge that measures the burgeoning acceptance of this exciting new trend known as citizen journalism.
Read on to discover five reasons why citizen journalism is here to stay:

The Internet rules the roost. Who knows how people managed to survive before life online? It's changed the way we work, shop, communicate, and—yes—stay on top of current events. Even the majority of those who grew up in an un-wired age now find it impossible to imagine society functioning without the Net. Because of the Internet's unprecedented speed and the scope of information available, more and more people "sign on" to get their news before (or often instead of) opening the paper or turning on the TV or radio.

Sites like Orato.com fit in with the blogger's agenda. "People are no longer closet narcissists," laughs Sullivan. "They are proud to let the world know what's going on in their own lives." Web sites such as MySpace and FaceBook, not to mention YouTube and countless blogging sites, are thriving because people want to be seen and heard. Orato.com is simply the next step to empowering the average citizen and giving him or her a voice. People are no longer hesitant to share what they know with the rest of the world—and more importantly, they are empowered by finding validation in that choice to be the ones telling the story.

People want to tell their own stories—in their own words. They are tired of being the fodder for some journalist's ambition. They are tired of being edited and excluded. Now, with Orato.com, they have a chance to say what they mean. Perhaps surprisingly, they are no less candid when they control the agenda. They're working with a reporter they trust—themselves! "Quite often we get in touch with people who have been worked over in other media," says Sullivan. "Once they find out they can own their story on Orato.com, they are amazed and wonder why no one thought to do it this way a long time ago."

People are ready to decide for themselves. Many people no longer feel the need to turn on the news to hear an anchorperson interpreting stories for them. Some people perceive traditional newscasts to be overly "PC," steered by sponsors, and watered down into sound bytes. They don't want to be hand-led, but rather have decided to draw their own conclusions. Furthermore, Orato.com makes a point to feature stories from all walks of life, ensuring that everyone will find something worth reading. Currently the site boasts the controversial topic of HIV-bug chasers alongside a story (also controversial, in retrospect) written by Duane "Dog" Chapman of A&E's number one show, Dog the Bounty Hunter.

"Sites like Orato.com offer a smorgasbord of choices," says Sullivan. "A certain type of person might relate to the bug-chasing story written by Didier and Luis, and a whole different kind of person will relate to Dog's story. And yet, the 'law & order' Red-Stater type you'd expect to read Chapman's story might also read Didier and Luis's story and learn something from it. But there's no preaching—writers just tell their story and readers take from it what they will."

Society seeks the invested reporter. While news anchors and reporters consistently do a great job of telling the facts, they are still just doing their jobs. They are not personally invested in the story or in the lives of the people they report on—rather they are working for a paycheck. Citizen journalism, on the other hand, is usually reported in the first person. The speaker owns his or her story, so to speak, and with that story comes the passion and integrity that goes along with sharing something so personal.

"We live in a cynical world," notes Sullivan. "There are so many horror stories in the news that we've gotten numb. And when the news is reported by professionals who are taught how to 'sell' the story a certain way, well, people just don't buy it anymore. So when we see a story that's written from the heart, without compensation, we respond in a visceral way. It's powerful to hear a story from someone who deeply feels the words."

Citizen journalism sprinkles some surprising stories amid the expected ones. The traditional newscast consists of all the common stories people are used to hearing: the war in Iraq, local crime, weather, and politics. The same old stuff. We know what we will see and hear when we turn on CNN. That's not a bad thing, of course. Sometimes all we're seeking is tried and true coverage of a particular story. Other times, though, we crave the experience of looking behind Door #2 with no idea what might be lurking there. And while sites like Orato.com usually do feature citizen journalists' take on major stories, they also include a healthy sprinkling of completely unexpected treats.

"Readers never know what they're going to get when they visit us," says Sullivan. We allow the people of the world to inform us of what is relevant, interesting, and powerful—and we are never disappointed with the stories that come pouring in from citizens worldwide. From ghost sightings at Gettysburg to hard news stories like the San Diego fires to celebrity confessions, we have it all, and it's all deemed worthwhile."

Perhaps the main reason citizen journalism is finding such a foothold is the "do it yourself" spirit that has permeated Western culture, says Sullivan. Our collective suspicion of government, Corporate America, and authority figures in general is manifesting in an "If you want something done right, do it yourself" attitude.

"People have started making fiercely independent choices regarding researching their own health issues, seeking medical treatment overseas, growing and cultivating their own food, and providing for themselves as never before," he points out. "Entrepreneurship is the new American dream. People want to make their own choices and live life as they see fit. Why shouldn't their news also reflect this drastic change?"

Orato.com certainly fits the bill for all that the media has been missing out on. This new Web site is an absolute treasure trove for the curious Web surfer as well as the most informed news junkie. Orato.com maintains that truly, you are the news and strives to enable everyone to explore the deliciously diverse world we live in.

Source: DeHart & Company

 

 

 

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