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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

Tulips 2006 for Gran ellengwallace's Tulips 2006 for Gran photoset

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Defining the citizen reporter

from my Flickr set "Man learns to fly, no wings"

When is a blogger a citizen reporter?

Another blog has just been born, and with it another potential citizen reporter. I hear this term bandied about, but I have yet to see a good clear definition. Bloggers who seek facts and share them: does that step make them citizen reporters rather than diarists? Bloggers who write frequently about a topic or place, seeking to provide new information each time: does providing information, rather than opinion, make them citizen reporters?

I ask for a good reason. In a couple weeks GenevaLunch goes live, an online English-language [newspaper] news shop for Geneva, Switzerland using blog technology. It is starting out quietly and small, as a laboratory experiment, with a loosely grouped advisory board that should help guide its growth and debate journalism issues as they crop up.

Is a citizen reporter a journalist?

One of the toughest issues is the role of the citizen reporter. A regional community newspaper needs these people in order to provide news and features on a broad number of topics. They make it possible to cover a geographic area that is otherwise too big for a publication designed to have low overhead and to offer the community's small businesses very inexpensive advertising space.

How do we maintain credibility using reporters who are not trained, unless the editorial team (and that is mostly me, as editor) can afford the time to doublecheck the reporting? I just added a lengthy comment to Shel Israel's blog post on this topic. Shel is co-author, with Microsoft's famous blogger Robert Scoble, of Naked Conversations (ordered, not yet read. I will review it here).

These are issues I've been debating with other journalists and people who will be part of the advisory board, but I thought about it again today because of the new blogger.

His name is Liam Bates, he is 17 and he's preparing to set off for China, where he will travel on his own this summer. It is his third summer alone there: the first two were spent mainly in Beijing working hard studying Chinese and martial arts (wushu). His blog will be a travelogue aimed at the wushu community and a small but growing international following he has, from his web site and Google wushu videos. Liam featured in a book I wrote two years ago, China on the Ground.

GenevaLunch will link to his blog as part of a series about the travel experiences of local people. We will also ask him to provide occasional reports for us and I will probably compare his experiences on the back roads of China to my own in 1985. As editor, I think I need to provide this young citizen reporter with some basic journalism training. Will older people who blog about their communities accept this or be interested in it - and is it feasible?

Claimer: I am also Liam's mother.


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