Citizen Media Watch

januari 15th, 2007

Okay, take that gift. But let the world know you did.

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

What is a bribe, what is a gift and what is doing a friend a favour? What is acceptable to accept from people who might want to influence your blogging?

A post by Media Culpa’s Hans Kullin makes it perfectly clear that bloggers are not journalists: Swedish bloggers can be bought for a lottery ticket

The story is that a site selling underwear has asked a number of Swedish bloggers to link to it, in return for a Triss lottery ticket (worth around 3 dollars). Lo and behold, many of them did. Hans Kullin ponders:

I can see that bloggers might be tempted to earn a quick buck by simply posting a link on their blog and as long as they are candid about the circumstances, there’s no real problem, right? A little surprising is when people who are in an official position, like being a member of the local council, allow their blog to become a marketing channel for underwear. But that’s their choice. What is more difficult to digest is when the payback part of the deal is not disclosed or when bloggers simply lie about the whole arrangement.

No, bloggers are not journalists. They would never be bought… that cheap. 😉

In the States, though, it’s not about lottery tickets. No, the blogger ethics issue is on a whole new level. I guess it’s been hard to miss the debate around Microsoft/Edelman sending out brand new state of the art Acer ”Ferrari” laptops, with Microsoft Vista installed, to bloggers, ”no strings attached”. The US blogosphere is divided on this issue. While some think it’s great that bloggers finally get some recognition for their hard work, others say the can no longer trust the bloggers who received these laptops. In the end, it looks like the whole thing turned for Microsoft. Lots of bad pr.

The key issue for bloggers is disclosure. The lesson learnt is this: if you receive something for free because you are a blogger, write about it straight away in your blog.
And, I’d like to add, consider the possibility of returning the gift if you have a gut feeling it’s not right and that it might cloud your judgement or that the suspicion might arise that your judgement has been clouded.
Just a piece of friendly advice.

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januari 12th, 2007

Good community building at

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community building, and how to deal with abusive comments or blog posts. I’ve argued that it’s important to be visible in the forums and blogs yourself, as editor/blog host/forum host. That is the best and only way to gain understanding for sometimes removing content. A dialogue. And mutual respect.

As Readers’ Editor, I try to participate as much as I can in Aftonbladet’s forums, but I often lack time, which I strongly regret. Instead, most often my contact with the forum users are via email when something’s gone wrong.
Sigge Eklund, Aftonbladet’s blog manager, works closely with the bloggers and uses his blog Bloggvärldsbloggen to keep them updated with news both about our blogging tool and things happening in the Aftonbladet blogging community and in the blogosphere in general.

Following the reported problems with the reader comments at AZ Starnet and at the Sun-Sentinel, and also Yahoo shutting down its Yahoo News message boards because they got dominated by ”a small number of vocal users”, I was happy to find a US blog host who is doing exactly what I asked for in my post about AZ Starnet.

Jason Sperber is community manager for the citizen blogs at In a recent post on his blog there he is very clear about what’s okay and what’s not in blog posts and comments at the Bakersfield citizen blogs, and why.

I’ve got some stuff to say that some of you aren’t going to like very much.

First off, let’s stop with the namecalling. No more calling each other “idiot” or “stupid,” or worse, in lieu of an argument. No more twisting folks’ names or blog handles into vulgar parodies. If you can’t make your point or defend your argument without resorting to base namecalling, then there are plenty of places for you to play, but this isn’t one of them. You detract from any point you’re trying to make when you go there, and we’re tired of it.

Spurious speculations about posters’ private lives are not welcome. Insults based on assumptions about individuals’ identities or parts of their private lives are not welcome. Again, argue your point, use sarcasm and humor and satire to underscore your argument and undercut that of your opponents, but don’t attack the person you’re arguing with. And if you’re on the receiving end of such an attack, that is not license to fight fire with fire.

By now, some of you have already assumed that I’m talking about or to you. Know this—if this doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you, and you don’t need to get defensive. But if it does, no matter what your political or ideological or religious beliefs, no matter how you identify yourself, I am talking to you. “He started it,” “I’m just defending myself”—these excuses don’t wash. Be the better person, walk away, ignore, and report. Don’t lower yourself.

Do read all of the post, and the user comments. It sets a good example.

Admittedly, being host for a blogging community is not exactly the same as being host for a forum. In my experience, bloggers often take more care to be civilized since they have the reputation of their own blog to think about, and also they are often volunteering more personal information than forum users.

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januari 11th, 2007

Backfence's Mark Potts: We're reevaluating our strategy

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Following my post summing up some of the buzz around local citizen journalism effort Backfence after the recent layoffs, I asked co-founder Mark Potts to clarify a few things about where the company’s at.
Here’s a quick email interview.

Me: I’m really curious about your business model. Is there enough money in the local market to support the sites just by ads, or do you have other ways to make money? I’d like to hear some of the success stories when it comes to local advertising.

Mark Potts: Backfence is entirely advertiser supported, and we believe in that model. We’ve sold ads to more than 500 advertisers in just a few months.

Me: Has the public response when it comes to participating on the sites met your hopes and aspirations?

Mark Potts: The participation varies by site and by post; that’s to be expected.
It depends on what’s going on in the community and what people want to talk about. We’ve had posts with dozens of responses and
fascinating dialogues by the community about what’s important to them.

Me: What was the reason behind the layoffs and what are you doing to turn this around?

Mark Potts: Can’t really comment on that, except that we’re reevaluating our strategy and planning several changes to our product to make Backfence scale into many more communities and become an even more valuable local resource.

Me: Where do you see Backfence in a year from now?

Mark Potts: Hopefully in many more communities and very successful!

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januari 11th, 2007

Trouble at Backfence?

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

I’m not one for spreading rumour and hypotheses bordering on guesses, but there’sthere has been little else to turn to when it comes to the development at Backfence, the local citizen media site for a number of smaller cities in the States. Two of the founders have now left the project, and according to Peter Krasilovsky at the Local Onliner two thirds of the staff of 18 are being let go.
Mark Potts, who was first to leave the company, has now returned to run it, after Susan DeFife, the second of the founders quit. Potts says the numbers and the layoff ratio I cited from the Local Onliner are incorrect, but doesn’t supply more detail.
Susan DeFife is quoted stating this reason for leaving the company: ”Ultimately, we did not share the same strategic vision for the company as the Board of Directors”. This seems to translate to the site not making enough money.
But in an email, Mark Potts gives me a different picture.

Backfence is still operational; our sites are up and running and serving their communities and advertisers. We’re still very excited about the opportunities for ad-supported hyperlocal citizens’ media sites, and we’ve got some great success stories in both content and advertising to point to at Backfence. And the Backfence managers and employees that I’m leading are really pumped about our plans to expand the company more broadly and to add many exciting new features.

Michael Wood-Lewis
at Front Porch Forum, another local media site that seems to focus on neighbourhoods rather than towns, has this analysis:

Perhaps BackFence isn’t aiming at the right target. Stories that appeal to an audience across a 50,000 to 100,000 population, i.e., BackFence’s target (e.g., “city council enacts smoking ban in restaurants”) may best be reported by professional journalist, as has been the case for generations. Stories that appeal to residents of one neighborhood, supposedly the cornerstone of BackFence (e.g., “utility work closes Maple St. and Birch Ct. to through traffic this week”) are not of interest to the other 49,000 people in town.

So, a BackFence model runs the risk of combining (A) stories with broad appeal that may not meet professional journalistic standards with (B) lots of micro-stories that are each only interesting to a very small slice of their readership.

The blog I, reporter has a good point about interaction being a key issue.

In my experience, community-based online media thrives when there’s strong participation and collaboration. It’s not enough just to read the news there, or even to publish your own stories there.

Sadly, Backfence never really got the participation/engagement part down well, as far as I could tell. Matthew Ingram’s recent scathing headline nailed the experience of most Backfence community sites, I think: A back fence around a ghost town.

As I’m not a very economical person – that’s something I leave to people who are good at it – it is hard for me to figure out how a startup in a small local market, starting from scratch, could be expected to make enough money to break even in such a short period of time. But surely they must have a plan? Though without enough people (citizens) participating, it seems like a daunting task.

So far all I have to go on is speculations. So far, Dan Gillmor who sold his Bayosphere to Backfence in April 2006, hasn’t commented on the current situation in his Backfence blog.

At CyberJournalist, though, Mark Potts, the first co-founder who quit Backfence and who’s now come back to run it while the site recovers, has this to say:

”We’re very excited about what we’re going to be able to do and how the hyperlocal space is exploding,” he said. ”We’re up and running and moving forward, and very excited about where we’re going, with an excellent team and very supportive investors and board.”

Update 2007-01-11 with Mark Potts comments in the first part of this post.

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januari 9th, 2007

"The hatemongers stormed the gates"

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

The local newspaper the Sun-Sentinel is facing critisism for allowing ”racist stereotypes, slurs, and sentimental references to slavery and lynchings”.
Bob Norman writes:

This summer, the newspaper began allowing readers to post unchecked comments beneath each article on its website. Almost immediately, the hatemongers stormed the gates, and they haven’t let up since.

The comments are reaction-moderated, so it takes a user to alert the moderators when racist comments occur. Though Sun-Sentinel editor Earl Maucker writes that the messageboards are constantly monitored, Bob Norman thinks otherwise. The Sentinel’s internet partner runs similar services for a large number of sites, and are apparently not monitoring the Sentinel all that closely.
One reader said he alerted the paper to a racist comment 50 times without anything happening.

”We’re very disturbed when we see insensitive, racist and offensive messages that some feel compelled to post”, wrote Earl Maucker in his ”Ask the Editor column. He blames the anonymity of the internet, among other things.

Bob Norman things that the Sentinel should either follow the Miami Herald’s example of allowing comments to only a few stories, or put a lot more effort into monitoring the messageboard he’s got.

It’s hard to handle a good initiative gone bad, as the recent AZ starnet example shows, and perhaps it would be better for the Sentinel to start over with a fresh system, but above all to take part of what the readers are writing and to be active.

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januari 7th, 2007

Newsrooms posing the wrong question?

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

An interesting post by Steve Yelvington highlights some of the questions newsrooms are posing – and should be posing – today. In a discussion about, among other things, open and closed systems and journalism for a new generation of non-seekers, Yelvington lands at:

Thanks to investor Bruce Sherman’s meddling in the newspaper business, suddenly America’s newsrooms are acutely aware that the world has changed, and there’s a broad debate about what it all means.

One of the recurring themes: What will be the economic foundation that will support serious professional journalism in the future?

What if that’s the wrong question?

What if the right question is: What does an open journalism company look like? How does it work? Because if traditional journalism is a closed system, it’s going to be clobbered by an ”OK” open system. How can we make that open system ”good enough?”

Check out the full story for the reference for ”OK open systems”.

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januari 5th, 2007

Weekly media study to include more than a hundred blogs

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

More than a hundred blogs are to be included in a new weekly media study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), writes USA Today. Though they will be separated from the established media in the study.
According to PEJ, the News Coverage Index will be ”the largest effort ever to measure and analyze the American news media on a continuing basis”.
About four dozen traditional media sources (print, network TV, cable, online, and radio) will be scanned continuously, and the result will be presented in a weekly report at

The initiative is an attempt to provide an empirical basis for cataloguing and understanding what a wide swath of media offer the American public at a time of growing debate about the press’ influence, standards and economic foundation.

What about the bloggers, then? Well, they’re a part of a ”series of secondary indices”, and collected in a Blogger Index. Other things meassured in this series are ”People in the News” and ”a Talk Show Index from cable and radio programming”.
Bringing together the different results – and pairing them with the Pew Research Center‘s News Interest Index, an index showing how closely people are following certain news stories, based on questionaires with respondents – will let the researchers find out more about the public’s response to news stories.

These twin indices of what the media are covering, and how the public is responding will offer an unprecedented pair of tools to understand the degree to which journalists and citizens are in sync—or in disagreement—over what constitutes important news.

PEJ researchers hope to discover whether there are gaps between what ‘mainstream media consider news and what the public thinks is important and what they want to talk about. Over time, that will start to show up,’ PEJ associate director Mark Jurkowitz says to USA Today.

Very interesting indeed, if that can be the result. But what I didn’t get was how the Blogger Index will be used if the public’s response will be taken from the News Interest Index. It does say that the NII will be new and expanded, but not exactly how.
USA Today writes: ”Blogs will be launched later, analyzed separately from the main index but compiled in a way that comparisons can be drawn.”

Even more interesting to see is how mainstream media will react if it turns out there are indeed great differences between what they are reporting and the interests of the public. Will they stick their head in the sand, or actually change?

This raises further questions. When using the Blogger Index in comparison studies, what conclusions could be drawn? Is the number of people in the blogosphere responding to a piece of news a measurement of how interested the public is?

How much should mainstream media change, based on these results? A story about Britney Spears not wearing underwear of course creates more buzz than reportage of a war in a far-away country. Does that mean that the public wants the first and not the other? Or is there a mission for established media beyond the creation of buzz? (Yep, these are extremes, but does not responding always mean you’re not interested in a subject? Could it not also be that you simply don’t have enough knowledge about it yourself to be able to contribute, or value the reporting?)

What would be interesting to see, are the number of occasions when MSM will have to back on stories because of blog coverage proving them to be inaccurate or have flaws. And how much MSM uses blogs as sources for news.

(via Daylife, a new tool worth checking out, which I found through Joho the Blog)

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januari 2nd, 2007

Dan Gillmor's media predictions for 2007

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Dan Gillmor. Photo: Lotta HolmströmDan Gillmor is a wise man in the citizen media world, so it’s with interest I read his media predictions for 2007. They are about US media, but interesting none the less. And I like the quiz format of this post (which Gillmor’s borrowed from columnist William Safire).

9. The most important journalism innovation will be:
A. The combination of reputation and popularity in selecting news that matters
B. Sophisticated “Web 2.0″ mashups
C. A major investigation, reported in part by the audience, leading to significant state and/or federal legislation

(answer: all)

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januari 2nd, 2007

Placeblogger – a new hub for hyperlocal blogging in the States

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Placeblogger.comA new site covering local and hyperlocal blogs has launched. is presented by Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizens Media, Jay Rosen‘s PressThink and Lisa Williams’ H20Town.
The site defines a placeblog as ”an act of sustained attention to a particular place over time”. It’s not necessarily citizen journalism, but rather can contain what they call ”random acts of journalism”.

”’s goal is to serve the community of placebloggers”, said Lisa Williams at a presentation at The Berkman Center at Harvard.
She wants to make it easier for placebloggers to find eachother, among other things by using geotagging. The site also provides OPML readinglists for each country (there are a few placeblogs listed outside the US, but they’re not many), state and city.
Each blog is pinned to a map, has a short description and a few lines of the most recent posts.
There’s a Yahoo Group and mailing list connected to the site.

It’s also a one stop shopping for people who are interested in citizen journalism in the United States. You can actually see, instead of just theorize.

Here’s more of what Lisa Williams had to say about Placeblogger in the video clip from Harvard:

Lots of people talk of citizen journalism and hyperlocal media. This is what I think a placeblog is. A placeblog is about the lived experience of a place. I think that’s a useful definition, because when we talk about these sites as citizen journalism, it’s very easy to go to even the best of these sites, take a look at it for 15 seconds, say ”what a crappy newspaper” and hit the Back button.
And that’s because most of us are extremely fortunate. Our lived experience of the place we live in when we walk out the door is not news. And if it is, one of two terrible things have happened to you. 1) you have become a celebrity, which is awful, or 2) you live in warzone.
For most of these places where they live, they are talking about lived experience of the place. And, sure, there’s news in that, random acts of journalism. But they’re also talking about what it’s like to live in this particular place and talk to these particular people, eat somewhere and take the bus somewhere.
I think that the relationship between placeblogs and newspapers is that the newspaper publishes the slice of the lived experience of that place that is newsworthy.

I checked out the five blogs about Boulder, CO. One thing that would have been cool would be a combined rss feed for all of them, showing the different posts sorted by date rather than by blog, which would be the effect if I added them to a Boulder folder in my RSS reader.

A similar site (?) in the making seems to be K. Paul Mallasch‘s Local Not much info there yet: ”This is a project I’ve started to keep track of specific examples of local journalism (aka citizen journalism aka grassroots journalism) websites. Stay tuned for more.” Though the tagline seems to imply it’s more of a corporate initiative: ”Your Guide to Citizen Journalism Startups”

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december 20th, 2006

Slow change in the newsroom

Posted by Lotta Holmstrom

Mark Glaser summarizes what he’s found when asking people how the change from ”old” to ”new” media is going in their newsroom. An interesting read.

You can talk all you want about new media, and even hire people with experience in new media, but if the top execs don’t really get it, then change is quite difficult.

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