So… what is the future of citizen journalism and social media?

In 1996 I was a communications student at American University, and had just discovered the Internet. I became an addict overnight. At that time, the public communications students were required to take many of the same classes that journalism students did. However, there was an innate understanding among my classmates that the journalism students were different. And they were. In many ways the training was more rigorous, and journalism was the only communications track that focused heavily on ethics.

Fast forward 13 years. Today, as a Web professional working for, I find myself researching the “decline” or, depending on whom you talk with, the “transformation” of the same industry my professors helped me cultivate an almost obsessive respect for. The culprit? The same computer phenomenon I fell in love with in all those years ago.

In December 2008, launched a Future of Journalism project. The website is a collaborative, Web 2.0 platform created for the exchange of research, information and dialogue on national and global issues. For both this and other topics, research is conducted in two steps:
1) Interviews with industry leaders are collected and published online.
2) An online book is created using the the interviews as a research base.

Given that the editor of the site is a retired journalist himself, and the founder has a long history of philanthropy in the journalism world, we expanded our research to include subtopics such as citizen journalism and social media.

As of now, we’ve collected over 90 interviews and op-ed pieces written by journalists, journalism academics, and industry insiders. Featured contributors include people like Charlotte Grimes, John Yemma, Chris O’Brien, and Gordon Crovitz. However, we are continuously updating the website with new interviews.

Its unfair for me to try to summarize the entire content of the project in one blog post, since almost every interview is filled with amazing insight and sheds light on a different facade of a complex situation. Additionally, as someone who has continuously worked on the fringes of the industry, I also don’t think it’s my place to speak for the journalism world. As a result, I would rather share pieces of interviews, that for one reason or another, I thought were unique. However, one thing is certain – while it is true that journalists are communication professionals, the reverse does not hold true. While this seems like a simple statement, its actually a fundamental difference that I don’t think a lot of people understand.

Adam Stone, publisher of The Examiner community newspapers in Putnam and Westchester counties in New York.

Stone’s story is an interesting one. Less than two years ago and without financial banking, this former reporter launched a newspaper in Westchester County. Since then he has launched an additional paper in Putnam County. As a result of his age, 31, you would almost expect Stone to attribute his success to some complicated, technological strategy, but that’s the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, Stone’s success is attributed to his complete dedication to high quality, local news. This formula is working since, besides expanding, his circulation continues to increase.

In response to whether Citizen Journalism can save newspapers:

“My belief is that newspapers, in their traditional form, can still be enormously popular. And if newspaper publishers largely reject the Web, and go back to basics, they can decrease their operating expenses and generate enough display advertising to return to profitability. What is plaguing the newspaper industry is a business model that no longer seems viable. I think it’s been the mainstream newspaper industry’s embrace of new editorial formulas and approaches that has been leading to its demise. The premise of the question seems to suggest that the newspaper industry must develop new ways, citizen journalism included, to remain relevant. I disagree with the assumption that newspapers must adapt significantly in the Internet age. While my opinion runs contrary to what most inside and outside the industry believe, there’s no doubting that recent attempts to adapt have failed, seeing as how so many newspapers are losing money or are going bankrupt or are out of business.”

Mitch Joel, journalist and social media expert

Joel is considered in many circles a social media guru. He was branded Canada’s rock star of digital marketing. His responses and solutions are the most “relevant” and “out of the box” I’ve seen, to date. It makes you wonder if professionals like him, who straddle both the technological and journalism worlds, were on the payroll a few years back, if the industry would still have found itself in the current situation.

In response to what newspapers can do to survive:

“I think fundamentally publishers have two issues on the table that they are not directly addressing. The first question is what do you sell. What I find unique is that publishers have gone online and said ‘actually, we sell content.’ In the 200-plus years of printing newspapers… they never sold content once. They sold advertising… The problem with that one trick pony, as it is right now, is that this sort of ‘wantiness’ of investors to invest in a company whose primary raison d’ĂȘtre is to sell banner ads, is not all that great…. People involved in online marketing know the banner ad is not the future of online advertisement or online marketing.

“When a lot of people say ‘Hey, how come newspapers just didn’t do Craigslist?’ It’s a fair question. But the bigger question is how come newspapers didn’t do Skype, or how come they didn’t do eBay for that matter? There is nothing saying that a publisher can’t go out and publish great platforms for consumers, and then use that money to somehow support and bring together journalism.”

Chris O’Brien, a business columnist and also the head of the Next Newsroom Project.

The Next Newsroom is funded by the Knight Foundation. The project aims to research and design the newsroom of the future. Considering all the multidisciplinary and dynamic work the team is doing, we should expect good things to come from this project. O’Brien, himself, even seems to embody the essence of the “future journalist.”

When asked about what the Next Newsroom project, and what the future newsroom will look like, O’Brien said:

“One of the early insights we had was that there would NOT be a single ideal newsroom, but rather, that we were entering an era of many next newsrooms. These would include everything from metro newsrooms to bloggers to non-profits to citizen journalists platforms. So the next step was to identify a handful of principles we thought should be embraced by any of those newsrooms:

1. The newsroom should be multi-platform.
2. The newsroom should be a center of continuous innovation.
3. The newsroom should place its community at the center of everything it does.
4. The newsroom should collaborate with other newsrooms in its local ecosystem.
5. The newsroom should practice transparency to build and maintain trust.”

To access the complete list of interviews and online book, visit the Future of Journalism homepage. You can also chose to receive OurBlook Twitter Updates. For more information, or to be part of this project, please email Sandra Ordonez at sandy[at]

About Sandra Ordonez


  1. says:

    Is there such a thing as ‘citizen journalism’

  2. says:

    Very interesting article. It encouraged me to examine my own thoughts about the new and evolving media choices today. Even though I like to “move along with the times,” the traditional newspaper is my preferred format for daily news because I find it makes for a more comfortable, enjoyable read. (Call me nostalgic?) However, don’t count me out of the online wave. Its quick accessibility to information is a big draw – especially that which is researched and reliable. So keep up the quality work with OurBlook.