Sunday, February 11, 2007

Citizen-journalism ... gone broadcast

Last month, staffers at KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa, California were called into the newsroom before their 11 p.m. show and told to stop working and that their stories that night would not air. They were done. It's a very small station (almost a blip on the radar) in the midst of the SF Bay Area.

But now ... the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Clear Channel, which runs the station, has an executive with a plan ... to get stories and programming from local residents.

"Steve Spendlove realizes that after last month's layoffs of most of the news-gathering staff at tiny KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa there will be less local coverage. The Clear Channel executive overseeing the station knows there won't be reporters to investigate local scandals, let alone do those fluffy woman-turns-100 features that make TV anchors cock their heads and smile at the end of a newscast.

But Spendlove said that the station's "business model" hadn't been working for years, and that "covering one-eighth of the Bay Area" is neither a moneymaker nor even an operation large enough to be measured by Nielsen ratings.

So the next step in Channel 50's evolution will be a nationally watched experiment in local television coverage. Over the next few months, the station's management plans to ask people in the community -- its independent filmmakers, its college students and professors, its civic leaders and others -- to provide programming for the station. "

It sounds great - as a lot of citizen journalism does these days. The Chron article makes it clear that Spendlove doesn't like that term, but the reporter then goes on to talk about instances where citi-j has worked: after the 2005 London bombings, during Thailand's coup last year.'s executive producer weighs in on incorporating local citizens into coverage, as does the guy in charge at Both plan to develop more, although the CBS guy is much more wary of the phenomenon.

Some viewer-produced content has made its way into local SF newscasts (and throughout the country), but it's been small - photos and what KPIX (CBS) calls "rare" video submissions. I think the stations are rightfully suspicious, or careful, about using that.

This relates to what we talked about in class last week - vetting stories, vetting sources, fact-checking. It's sometimes something that doesn't happen perfectly in regular journalism. Terrible. But sometimes ...

So, what's to happen with citi-j? Who vets? Can it be vetted? How is it to be trusted? Do news organizations lose some credibility with viewers when we don't know exactly the conditions the info was gathered under?

And I know that the viewer submissions help - getting info where access isn't yet, or providing another level of detail. But I'm really weirded out by KFTY-TV's push to local programming by viewers, particularly as the station exec doesn't have a plan or a vision of how it is going to work or what it's going to look like.



At Sunday, February 11, 2007, Anonymous VLD said...

I think their hearts are in the right place, but you're right. Given the logistics of news-gathering and (especially broadcast) reporting ... it's doomed to end in screaming matches and lawsuits.

It's fun to consider a system for certifying / licensing journalists (especially the inevitable jump in our salaries and the arguable increase in the quality and credibility of our work). But we have to live without one, since the tenets of our democracy preclude it.

We also have to live with the fact that the currency of our trade is credibility. Like LA described, any station broadcasting citi-j has a huge, huge vetting job on its hands.

Citi-j is their solution to the problem of money. But how could it possibly be more cost-effective to check the work of 100 citi-j submissions than to invest in the training and career of one or two professional journalists?


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