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Blufton Today

Blufton Today

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Published by Visual Editors

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Published by: Visual Editors on Jan 31, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Citizens' media gets richer
Photos, video and audio are becoming part of the user-generated palette.By
Posted: 2005-09-07Not long ago, online news sites discovered that users wanted to become partof the media conversation. Begrudgingly, many news sites added groupblogs and other devices that cracked open the palace doors and allowedreaders to become writers. Turns out the barbarians at the gates were adeptat slinging words. Who knew?Now we're seeing the next stage take hold in the citizens' media movement.People are beginning to contribute rich media -- photos, video and audio --to news sites."If news organizations don't embrace this, it will embrace
, and they'llbecome less and less relevant," says Michael Tippett, founder of NowPublic.com. "Citizen journalism is not the future, it's the present."For some time, readers have contributed photos of news events like Sept.11, the space shuttle breakup or the London bombings. What's changed isthat such reader galleries are becoming central parts of several news sitesrather than afterthoughts. Video and audio aren't far behind.In the process, thousands of amateur photographers, video-makers andpodcasters have begun creating a flavor of news that's different fromtraditional journalism -- something more informal, spirited and community-based.Following is a look at three online news publications that are blazing newtrails in user-generated content: Bluffton Today in South Carolina,NowPublic.com and New West in Missoula, Montana.
Bluffton (S.C.) Today
When Morris Newspapers launched the Bluffton Today site on April Fools'Day, some people weren't quite sure what to make of this latest experimentin citizen journalism.Steve Yelvington, analyst for
, calls it "a completeinversion of the online newspaper model," and that starts with the primarymission of the Web site: to support the daily newsprint product, whichlaunched three days later.
To gain a foothold in the South Carolina enclave of 12 private gatedcommunities and 20 or so open subdivisions, Morris decided to underscorethe sense that the online and print publications belonged to the community."It's the people's newspaper -- it's theirs, not ours," Yelvington says.The news site depends chiefly on user submissions for its content. Staffersand those who register receive a free Weblog and a gallery for publishingphotos. People may contribute events to a community calendar and recipesto a community cookbook, and everyone may post free ads for salableitems."We believe the real problem plaguing American newspapers anddraining the lifeblood out of circulation and readership is that people are nolonger primarily focused on their own communities," Yelvington says. "You'reliving in this cable TV world of the outside observer instead of acting asparticipants. We're trying to make people come out of their gates andbecome players. We want a participative culture to evolve."With a hyperlocal site like Bluffton Today, it made sense editorially andbusiness-wise to extend the reach of the newsroom into the community byenticing residents to become part of a social network. "We can get only sofar with our own staff," he says.Forums have been one way to entice users to participate in theircommunities. "But everybody has had the same experience, seeing themturn into horrendous cesspools. We were determined not to have thathappen," he says.Instead, the Bluffton Today site gave people free blogs and the ability to posttheir pictures to galleries. While other citizen journalism sites like theBakersfield Californian's
and the Denver Post's
try to coax citizens into producing "something that looks like journalism,"Yelvington says, Morris's approach here has been "more conversational andless bound by assumptions about what the end result should be." As aresult, it's less about journalism and more about empowering communitymembers to express themselves."It's been fascinating to watch it unfold," he says. Rather than seeing thetraditional formulaic approach of news stories or news releases, readers areseeing writings by people like the local high school principal quickly evolveinto "that comfortable, informal, conversational style you see in blogs."
came naturally and organically to the site. Digitalphotography has become so pervasive and easy that people want to sharetheir work online. A lot of people post pictures to the photo galleries whoaren't comfortable writing a sentence on a blog, Yelvington says.

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