There often comes a point when something that’s been up in the air starts to settle. This is one of those times, and it’s important for local sites:
According to an Anderson Analytics survey of college students, “Facebook was viewed as ‘cool’ by a whopping 82% of males and 90% of females. All other SNS’ (social networking sites) were deemed “lame” by significant percentages of both male and female collegiate users. In particular, MySpace–the granddaddy of SNS’–was considered ‘lame’ by the largest portion of college students (31%).”
Significantly, Anderson Analytics found no falloff of image for Facebook as its user base has expanded into these kids’ parents generations and beyond. And it found that Facebook now tops Google for usage among college kids.
The relevance of Facebook’s critical mass is twofold for local news sites: first, at a time of scarce resources, Facebook remains an area worth devoting staff time to, such as posting news items. Maybe you can dial back your effort on MySpace (if any). Or if you’re not doing much with social networking, you can start, and just focus on Facebook for now, maybe Twitter later.
Second, Facebook’s critical mass of members makes Facebook Connect look even more attractive as a piece of your site’s infrastructure. Connect gives you two things that are expensive in time and money to come by otherwise: a registration system that forces accountability for postings, and exposure to lots of people efficiently (through Facebook’s news feed) as people post to your site.
So if you’re running a local site and trying to figure out where to spend scare resources, here’s one place: Facebook.
An editorial on The Digital Journalist site, entitled Let’s Abolish ‘Citizen Journalists’ argues that journalism is being undermined by the presence of people who report on news but aren’t on the payroll (or freelance roster) of a recognized news organization.
It goes further, claiming that news organizations are digging their own graves: “Because of declining revenues, newspapers, magazines and TV stations actually think they can get these ‘volunteers’ to replace the professionals.”
First, in 30 years in journalism, I have never heard of any news manager seriously considering such a thing, let alone doing it. (I suspect that the perspectives of The Digital Journalist are colored by its heavy focus on photojournalism, and yes, citizen photos/video have made news. But who sees that as a coverage strategy?)
More troubling to me is that this editorial reinforces the age-old canard that all journalists are members of some kind of priesthood. The editorial cites Afghanistan and the White House as venues where citizen journalists will never tread. True enough. But how many professional journalists will go to Afghanistan or the White House, regardless of their credentials? And how many professionals will attend the local school board meeting, compared to public-sprited “amateurs?”
There are too many shades of “professional journalist” to allow any blanket description. Professionals can be hacks, and amateurs can serve the public interest.
The comments on Let’s Abolish ‘Citizen Journalists’ do a fine job of picking at its arguments, so please check them out, especially Howard Owens’ reminder that “citizen journalism” is how journalism got started in the first place.
My main problem with the priesthood attitude is that journalism needs all the help it can get, professional or not. “Professional” news organizations are in economic whitewater right now, unable to reinvent themselves fast enough to fulfill their public-service.
Anyone who cares about the importance of a free press in a democracy should support and encourage journalists, professional or not. If you’re a professional, good for you. Strive for excellence, strive to advance the public interest, and hopefully someone will pay you. If you’re not a professional, well, same goes for you.