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Citizen Journalism: Kristine Löwe

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On Café Babel Stockholm's Swedish blog we have had a series of interviews, with people from various types of media, regarding citizen journalist.

As Café Babel is a good example of citizen journalism, we wanted to explore what new opportunities it offers to both writers and professional journalists. Will it provide media with new talent, or will it drive a further fragmentisation?

Will it provide a new type of voice in Europe's media?

Kristine Løwe is a Norwegian freelance journalist and writes an excellent blog Kristine Lowe on media, communications and current affairs. As Kristine has had many years of experience of writing in England, she opted to answer Café Babel Stockholm's question in English.

Café Babel Stockholm There is much talk about citizen journalism today. Is there something to it, that we are seeing the birth of a new form of collaborative journalism, or is it just a hype? Will citizen journalism ever be able to compete with professional journalists?

Kristine Løwe I think both blogs and citizen journalism can and will supplement, transform and serve as a healty correction to journalism, but not supplant it. Citizen journalism and blogs broaden the picture and the debate. This can be especially true in conflicts and under totalitarian regimes where it's difficult for MSM (mainstream media) to gain access. Reporters Without Borders say that in the field of human rights, it is citizen journalists and not professional journalists who have been responsible for the most reliable reports and information – the information that has most upset the governments.

However, I think you do need a very strong motivation or sense of community to take the time and effort to do citizen journalism that can compete with the MSM. Good, well researched writing that can make a difference takes time, and sometimes money.This means that I have yet to be convinced that news organisations will be able to rely on 'free' citizen journalism on a large scale. I know there are a few local US newspapers built entirely on citizen journalism. Which makes sense, cause the sense of community would be strong, but I think this is difficult to scale to e.g. national publications. Of course there are quite a few attempts at doing this in different ways, e.g. Jay Rosen's projects, which will be interesting to watch, but fundamentally I also think that 'citizen' articles and pictures used by big media organisations should be paid, if only symbolically, for the effort. I also think that citizen journalism needs direction and some form of moderation, as do successful communities, to keep the debate respectful, open and constructive.

Media is undergoing such dramatic changes at the moment, and you see so many MSMs that desperately try to jump on every new bandwagon that comes along, without understanding what they are getting themselves into.

Yes, a lot of the initiatives we see now, in terms of virtual worlds, citizen journalism, blogs, pods, vods etc will fall flat to the ground, mostly because those who launched them did not take the time to get acquainted with the basic rules of what they were getting themselves into. A lot of these things are over-hyped, because a lot of people try to be trendy by dropping all the right words or doing all these things they do not understand, without getting the fundamentals right.

We are seeing big important changes though, important to see past the hype and try to keep an open mind. Again I think citizen journalism will serve as a supplement to the MSM, and transform it in the process.

CBS Will the paper edition of the newspaper keep its current status and prestige with the readers and in the journalist profession?

KL That would be strange wouldn't it? Especially seeing how both advertisement money and readers are emigrating online. I think and hope perceptions will change as papers start doing more innovative stuff online, become more interactive and more fully fledged media, not just digital versions of their paper copies (as too many are), or something that papers think they 'have to do' to keep up with the flock, but lack vision for.

I think journalism schools are really lagging behind here as well though. Both because lectureres do not understand what is happening and the impact of it, but also because the schools lack the financial resources to change the way they teach journalism.

CBS Will citizen journalism and the Web provide a better venue for 'the good narrative' or will we see even more of quick news?

KL In general I think people skim more than read online, so online requires a very different way of writing.

Speed is very important, as online papers are competing with television, it has to be instant and fresh. Still, with so many doing instant and fresh there is always a niche for in depth journalism. The Guardian is a good example; constantly competing to break the news first online, but also with in depth analysis and commentary like Comment is free and Roy Greenslade. But of course, even the latter has to be a lot quicker than commentary in the paper edition of the newspaper, so this requires more speed too. That's talking specifically about newspapers though. If you look at the developments in the blogosphere, where many literary blogs based on good stories have huge audiences, it would be foolish to say there is not a market for that - it's that famous long tail, isn't it.

CBS What do you think of the authors' rights to their creations today? Are they too strong or too weak?

KL No strong opinions. In terms of newspapers they are often too weak, in that the papers demand full copyright for ever and ever. In general i support the creative commons licensing.

CBS It is often said today that journalists are becoming more and more easily replaceable today and that work conditions are becoming worse. Is there some truth to that statement? If that is the case, are some types of journalism excepted?

KL I think that is correct. It is such a popular profession, often because people think it will make them famous, that you do often feel like you are replacable. Media has always been a fast changing environment though, not really the place to seek if you like your routines and getting a ticket to that one job for life (although some papers used to issue them).

However, I think the demand for journalists who are comfortable with the new multimedia environment, and at home with it's tools, is increasing. There are not too many of those journalists around. Also, at the same time as MSM is changing due to new technology, so are the opportuntities for journalists. Why not just go out and establish your own brand, start blogging, podcasting, vodcasting, or set up your own venture, now that the threshold for entry, both in terms of technology skills and money, has been lowered so much?

CBS What is your opinion of the situation for freelancers today and in the future?

KL I am actually more optimistic today than I was five years ago. I think there are plenty of oppotunities out there, you just need to go out and get them.