Thursday, 6 December, 2007 0:10 AM
Citizen Journalism: A Powerful
New Trend in Reporting the "News"
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.
—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
- Love & Sex
- Travel & Adventure
- Health & Science
- 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
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
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 &