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Citizen Journalists (THAT MEANS YOU!) Are Shaping the Future of Reporting

By Mary Ann Giordano
Deputy Editor, The New York Times
[email protected]

Mary Ann Giordano


“Citizen journalism” has become a standard part of the way we gather and report news. But that was not always so.

Once upon a time, reporters felt pretty good about themselves when they would take time for a telephone call from a reader (or viewer) to listen to a “tip.” Occasionally, if they were feeling particularly generous, reporters would break away from planned stories and editor assignments to actually pursue the reader’s concern. And that was about the extent of “reader interaction” and citizen participation in the newsroom.

These days no big story can be covered without citizen involvement. And though the ingredient that citizens contribute is not always, technically, journalism, it is valuable in helping to get to the truth of a story and ensuring the thoroughness with which issues and events are covered.

For the last four years, I have been lucky enough to work for The New York Times on Web sites that have relied on citizen journalism. As the founder of The Local, hyperlocal sites that cover specific localities in the metropolitan area, and SchoolBook, a site devoted to local education issues and schools, I helped The Times make the plunge into reader-submitted articles as part of the regular online news report.

We published everything from a gardening column to opinion articles, from posts about neighborhood stores to art reviews. And many of the posts – though not all – were amazingly well-written.

Simultaneously, elsewhere in the newspaper and on nytimes.com, reader content has been trickling into the daily news report. Readers “communicate” through e-mail, comments on Facebook and on Twitter, and postings on YouTube and blogs. These comments or posts tell stories that are important to the mainstream press, and they are being used as sources of information and direct content in television, radio, magazine, newspaper and online reports every day.

In addition, American journalists are becoming more adept at reaching out for citizen reports, using the same social media and online tools. Soon it will be standard for reporters to start investigating storieswith a comment on Facebook – tell us what you know – and making an online query, much as it was standard (and still should be) for reporters to “check the clips” before heading out on an assignment.

What is Citizen Journalism?

Citizen journalism takes many forms. Some of it is quite casual: Twitter, Facebook or YouTube postings chronicling a breaking or ongoing news event that are picked up by reporters and worked into articles. This occurs every day in the press, with citizen observation, commentaries, photos and video showing up in reports about local flooding, crime or police actions and concerts.

Citizen journalism has become a staple of local journalism, as well. Hyperlocal Web sites, like The Local and The Voice of Nosara, rely on readers to tip them off to everything from crime occurrences to changes in parking rules. Local sites can absorb any information that comes their way, whether through e-mails with information or suggestions, or submissions of fully developed articles ready to publish.

In citizen journalism, readers can also suggest ideas for stories, sign up for assignments and even submit written reports or photographs to the editors electronically.

Why Citizen Journalists are Needed

Why all the interest by journalists in the voices of ordinary citizens? Multiple reasons. At the most basic, no news organization can be everywhere at all times – whether the location is Nosara or Brooklyn. The news has also gotten much more complicated, and with so many sources of information now available, news organizations are being asked to do much more – and often with much fewer resources.

Another basic reason: because they can. With the advent of the Internet and the widespread use of e-mail and other digital communication tools, readers can “publish” for the world – literally – and reporters can access those “publications” right at their own desks.

But there is a third and major reason for the growth of citizen journalism: because ordinary citizens are often the best sources for the best information. If you have witnessed a shooting or merely watched the parking signs in your neighborhood change, you automatically know a lot more about the issue than the reporter who is assigned to that story. And we need you if our goal is an honest, thorough and, yes, interesting, report.

Journalists must also keep in mind that information that is volunteered or is just generally available through Facebook or Twitter is inherently skewed – it was, after all, offered, presumably because a person had strong feelings about the matter. That hardly makes the information unreliable. But just as a reporter would assess and verify a press release, it’s up to the reporter to hold the information up to scrutiny and seek out conflicting accounts and verification.

That makes citizen journalism a whole lot of work for professional journalists. But only the most retroactive or narrow-minded organizations would use that as an excuse to dismiss the contributions of readers and other citizens. As professionals, our goal remains “truth.” And these days citizens are a path to the truth that cannot be ignored. We have also learned with The Locals and School Book that ordinary citizens are a rich source of information, content, ideas and often a beautiful source of writing, video or photography.

Is it always journalism? No. But it is real life, and that is the most compelling element that news organizations can add to their reports these days. And, citizens, we thank you for it.


More Regional News

Generous Tips Restricted By Credit Cards

A curious case emerged this past October when a server at Guiones' Gilded Iguana was tipped large by a generous customer. The finale take for the server, however, was only a fraction due to a little-known policy by credit card companies to restrict tip pay-outs.

Tourism in Costa Rica Still Suffering…but Not So Much.

Complaints from Costa Rican tourism businesses have been constant since the crisis of 2008-2009, but now a survey shows that business is not so bad.

Municipality and Government Met with Those Affected by Earthquake

The Municipality of Nicoya and the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements(MIVAH—Ministerio de Vivienda y Asentamientos Humanos) met with those who have suffered damage to their homes from the earthquake of September 5th and the subsequent aftershocks.

Foreigners Must Be Legal Residents To Drive in Costa Rica

Rick and Lorraine have been coming to Costa Rica for the last ten years. Like good tourists they fueled the country’s top industry, tourism. And like many Canadian tourists, they fell in love with paradise.

New Home Costs, Taxes, to Climb

If you’re contemplating building a new home next year, prepare yourself to pay higher taxes than before, reports the national newspaper La Nacion.

Women of Costa Rica over burdened with responsibilities

Costa Rican women not only devote to household chores more than double the time men do, but also allocate more time to their professional training, according to local media.

Operating Rooms Will Reopen at the End of November

The long wait for surgical services at La Anexion Hospital in Nicoya will soon end.  The two operating rooms will be ready on November 26th, when they have approval from the Ministry of Healthy. 

Vigil Held To Protest Health Cuts At Nicoya Hospital

About a dozen protesters sat themselves upon the grounds of Nicoya's Annexation Hospital at night on Thursday November 16th in an effort to highlight the hospital’s budget cuts.

There are Now 16 Real Estate Frauds in Nosara

Currently a criminal band is stealing or buying the properties they hire someone else to steal, pretending to be the legitimate owners. Only this year, by the end of the month of October, we learned of 10 cases, which give us an average of one per month.

Public Force and OIJ Deal a Blow to the Stolen Goods Market in Nicoya

The Public Force and the Organism of Judicial Investigation (OIJ) performed a joint operation throughout the day on Friday, November 9 in Nicoya, during which they decommissioned stolen articles equivalent to several million colones (thousands of dollars).

Presidency Published Gag Law Against Journalists and the Media

The Presidency of the Republic on Tuesday, November 6th published in La Gaceta the law that will punish journalists and citizens with up to 10 years in prison if they disseminate “secret political information.”

CONAVI Temporarily Stepped In Over Río Montaña Bridge

Last Friday November 2nd the Concejo Nacional de Vialidad (National Highway Council- CONAVI) repaired damages to the bridge over Río Montaña.

New rules for vehicle technical inspection (RTV) in January

A police officer from the Fuerza Publica, driving while intoxicated, crossed into oncoming traffic and caused a head on collision with another vehicle, killing its driver.

Drunken Nicoya police officer kills driver in head-on collision

A police officer from the Fuerza Publica, driving while intoxicated, crossed into oncoming traffic and caused a head on collision with another vehicle, killing its driver.

Letter from the Editors
Celebrating Ten Years of Connecting Communities, and More to Come

For ten years now, the Voice of Nosara has been serving Nosara and the surrounding communities with the goal of connecting and uniting people—not just people in different towns but people of different backgrounds, nationalities and languages.

Interview with Liza Vogt, Voice of Nosara’s First Publisher

Why was the newspaper started? 
VON was started for two reasons: to dispel many of the rumors that were constantly flying around Nosara and also to inform residents and tourists of current situations and upcoming events.

Most Talked About Stories

Our editors reviewed every print edition of The Voice of Nosara from October 2002 until September 2012 and chose the most talked about stories based on letters to the editor, comments made to reporters or on Facebook and follow-up stories.

The Most Repeated Themes During Ten Year

Our editors reviewed every print edition of The Voice of Nosara from October 2002 until September 2012 and counted how many articles were printed on each subject.

“They want to kick us out when we’ve lived here all our lives,”
Oscar Chavarría, resident of Garza

“I’ve lived here for 30 years and now they tell us that they want to annul our property titles and kick us out of our homes,” commented Oscar Chavarria indignantly. He lives in Playa Garza with his wife and daughter.

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