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Grassroots online journalism: public intervention on Kuro5hin and Wikinews

Grassroots online journalism: public intervention on Kuro5hin and Wikinews

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Published by Marcelo Träsel
Paper on the main findings of my MA research, to be presented at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre meeting in Brisbane, Australia, March 2008.

The primary goal of this study was to determine whether a) the participation of “laymen” in online journalism results in a significant rate of contributions concerned with the overall expansion of the democratic debate (pluralizing character) and meeting journalistic criteria, as well as its values; or b) these interventions are more concerned with issues such as grammar and spelling, style, trivia or even useless bickering (formal/disruptive character). In other words, were interventions from contributors in both Kuro5hin and Wikinews predominantly pluralizing or formal/disruptive?

A sample consisting of ten texts was collected over a span of seven weeks in order to create a corpus of interventions, which were later submitted to content analysis with the goal of verifying if the interventions had a predominantly pluralizing character or not. The results show that, for Wikinews and Kuro5hin, interventions are mostly pluralizing, which indicates grassroots online journalism can make important contributions to democracy.
Paper on the main findings of my MA research, to be presented at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre meeting in Brisbane, Australia, March 2008.

The primary goal of this study was to determine whether a) the participation of “laymen” in online journalism results in a significant rate of contributions concerned with the overall expansion of the democratic debate (pluralizing character) and meeting journalistic criteria, as well as its values; or b) these interventions are more concerned with issues such as grammar and spelling, style, trivia or even useless bickering (formal/disruptive character). In other words, were interventions from contributors in both Kuro5hin and Wikinews predominantly pluralizing or formal/disruptive?

A sample consisting of ten texts was collected over a span of seven weeks in order to create a corpus of interventions, which were later submitted to content analysis with the goal of verifying if the interventions had a predominantly pluralizing character or not. The results show that, for Wikinews and Kuro5hin, interventions are mostly pluralizing, which indicates grassroots online journalism can make important contributions to democracy.

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Published by: Marcelo Träsel on Jan 31, 2008
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Grassroots online journalism:public intervention on
Kuro5hin
and
Wikinews
Marcelo Träsel
1
Abstract
: The tools which enable anyone to create websites without IT expertise havegiven virtually every citizen with Internet access the chance to express him or herself.Blogs and other web publishing tools which do not require programming languageknowledge, such as wikis, have enabled the development of various different types of websites. These website have become alternative information sources, leading to anenvironment where grassroots online journalism has bloomed. Grassroots online journalism, as defined by Primo and Träsel, are the practices developed in web news periodicals, or parts thereof, where the boundary between reading and publishing iseither blurred or non-existent. The term comprehends news websites in which readerscan intervene on what is published, either by submitting their own reporting, rewritingstories, and commenting and debating the journalistic material produced by other contributors. Blogs which focus on debating current events or publishing news storiesand articles, and news websites such as
Ohmynews
, are instances of grassroots online journalism.The issue is no longer whether individuals with no professional license or formaleducation will publish their own writing and influence the public sphere, but
how
and
towhich extent
they will do it. On the one hand, this phenomenon provides the possibilityof deepening democracy in the multiperspectival news mold, as proposed by HerbertGans in 1979, which has finally become technically and economically viable. On theother hand, journalists will eventually have to live with the fact that the agenda will beset by people newsrooms used to think of as news consumers rather than news producers. Therefore, we believe grassroots online journalism deserves specialattention.This paper presents results from a study focusing on interventions from variouscontributors on the journalistic content published in the participatory news websites
Wikinews
and
 Kuro5hin
. The primary goal of this study was to determine whether a) the participation of “laymen” in online journalism results in a significant rate of contributions concerned with the overall expansion of the democratic debate(pluralizing character) and meeting journalistic criteria, as well as its values; or b) theseinterventions are more concerned with issues such as grammar and spelling, style, triviaor even useless bickering (formal/disruptive character). In other words, wereinterventions from contributors in both
 Kuro5hin
and
Wikinews
predominantly pluralizing or formal/disruptive?A sample consisting of ten texts was collected over a span of seven weeks inorder to create a corpus of interventions, which were later submitted to content analysiswith the goal of verifying if the interventions had a predominantly pluralizing character or not. The results show that, for 
Wikinews
and
 Kuro5hin,
interventions are mostly pluralizing, which indicates grassroots online journalism can make importantcontributions to democracy.
Keywords
: Journalism, Online Journalism, Grassroots, Content Analysis, Interaction
 
Journalism is changing. For the first time since the rise of mass society, thedevelopment of media and computing technologies has enabled citizens to threatenmainstream media's monopoly over the flow of information, while actually holding the power to do so. With the development of real time communication technologies, such asmobile phones and wireless networks, flood gates are wide open, releasing a great loadof expressive energy that had been building up due to high production costs andinhibitory policies of concession for press licenses and use of the electromagneticspectrum. Under the influence of this wave of amateur publications, journalism is beingforced to review its concepts, values and commercial strategies. More importantly, it is being forced to review its role in a democratic society.We must acknowledge that only a small slice of the global population has accessto computers and telephony, and it is impossible to foresee if even this small slice hasthe skills to use them constructively for the benefit of democracy. Despite their havingaccess to technology, individuals and groups interested in distributing their cultural production via Internet are, nevertheless, subject to historical, economical and socialfactors which cannot be ignored. Although we do recognize the existence of suchfactors, for the present research we could not afford to discuss the problem of usage andaccess conditions regarding telematics networks. This work will focus on groups whichhave crossed the barriers of access to Internet, specifically to the World Wide Web, andare already making use of it to publish their multimedia material.Online news have been increasingly inviting readers’ participation
2
,however timidly, through e-mail, bulletin boards, forums, polls and other resources. Generally,however, publishing control is kept in the hands of a staff consisting of professional journalist who might or might not have a specific educational background, dependingon the legal context of the country in which the company is based. Some online newssites have opened up space for readers to comment on stories, such as the German
 Die Zeit 
3
,or have created news staff blogs featuring comment space, such as the Britain's
The Guardian
4
or Brazilian
Globo Online
5
. Others, such as the
 Los Angeles Times
6
, havegone to the extreme of opening up their editorials for direct public intervention −withdrawing their initiatives shortly after, due to the profusion of pornographic imagesthat were published by collaborators
7
. South Korean
OhmyNews
8
was one of the first papers based from scratch on the interaction between readers and journalists(BRAMBILLA, 2006). Under the motto “every citizen is a reporter”, founder Oh Yeon
2
 
Ho allowed any citizen to send in stories which are then edited and published by
OhmyNews
’s staff of journalists, in exchange for a small sum of money.Another front of citizen participation in online media consists of publishingcollaborations with no previous or subsequent supervision by professional journalists.The great pinnacle for this type of participation are weblogs, or blogs, frequentlyupdated World Wide Web pages, featuring dated records which are orderedchronologically so that the most recent items appear on top (BLOOD, 2002). Accordingto the report
 Bloggers: a portrait of the Internets new storytellers
 
(PEW, 2006), 12million adult Americans claim to keep a blog and 57 million are blog readers. Blogs aremost commonly used for the publishing of diatribes and every day accounts, but many bloggers dedicate themselves to spreading highly specialized information, news reportsor analysis and criticisms of news published by the press:
Blogs are filtering the news, detailing daily lives, and providing editorialresponses to the events of the day. For many people, a weblog is a soapboxfrom which they can proclaim their views, potentially influencing many more people than they can in their everyday lives. (BLOOD, 2002, p.X)
9
. 
The tools that enable anyone to create a blog without needing to be a computer specialist granted the possibility of self-expression to virtually every citizen who hasaccess to the web. Other tools which enabled Web-publishing without the need of  programming knowledge had been available previously − such as the wikis
, for instance −, but none has surpassed the blog in popularity. Blogs became an alternativesource of information when online news sites became inaccessible due to the immensetraffic of cybernauts looking for news about the WTC attacks. From Iraq, blogger SalamPax
published the view of local civilians about the second American invasion in thecountry. In 2004, democrat pre-candidate Howard Dean effectively entered the disputewith John Kerry by raising millions of dollars in small donations through his campaign blog (GILLMOR, 2004).Such events are the landmark for Web participative journalism, or participativewebjournalism, defined by PRIMO and TRÄSEL (2006, p.9) as “practices developed insections or in the entirety of a Web news periodical, in which the frontier between production and reading cannot be clearly defined or is nonexistent". The term refers tothose online news sites in which the public is able to intervene over published content, be it by submitting their own journalistic material
, be it by rewriting texts,commenting and debating over journalistic material published by other collaborators.
3

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