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Citizen journalism: news that spreads like wildfire

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Over the past couple of years the internet has increasingly dominated my life – so much so that I get a bit panicky when I’m ‘offline’. Working in digital media has sharpened my senses to the fundamental shift that’s taking place, but it’s staring each of us in the face really.

Nearly every day there’s yet another news story about Facebook or some other aspect of the internet. It makes me wonder how much more our lives are going to change in the next few years.

One change I’m acutely aware of is that if I want to read the news, and I mean the ‘breaking’ news, I certainly won’t find it on my television. Citizen journalism is a reality – stories are ‘broken’ by people at the scene, by texting, blogging, emailing and taking pictures, even videos, and posting them online.

For example, there was a major incident at Liverpool Street Station recently during the evening rush hour. A huge exclusion zone was set up sealing the whole area off. I learned this from a friend at the scene who called me. Concerned, I switched on my TV news channel… and nothing. The ‘breaking news’ on TV had been the same all afternoon. But had I been able to get online I’m sure I’d have found out what was happening.

Most ‘old’ media businesses worth their salt woke up to this reality years ago. Check out the BBC’s help us make the news feature or The Guardian’s news direct to you range of functionality; with g24 you can even print off your own PDF for a more old-fashioned read – updated every 15 minutes.

The Guardian has arguably been at the forefront of successfully translating traditional journalism online – with their website updated by the minute, winning awards, and offering amazing usability and choice. There’s an astonishing level of engagement with their huge range of blogs, where a new post can collect hundreds of comments in literally minutes.

As Howard Owens – a prolific journalist/blogger – recently stated:

“The user is in control. They decide what, when, why, where and how to consume media. Users aren’t interested in newspaper deadlines and their desire to have the full story before publishing. They want to know what we know when we know it. They want their news now.

People want to participate. They want to talk back. They want to add to our stories, correct us and just spout off as need be with their own opinions."

Absolutely. And I welcome the ongoing efforts on the part of publishers to embrace the web, but what I’m really looking forward to is someone inventing a way for me to find the time to read everything.

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