<img src="//bat.bing.com/action/0?ti=5065582&amp;Ver=2" height="0" width="0" style="display:none; visibility: hidden;">
Hatef Yamini 7 min read

Citizen Journalism: Care2 Member Scoops Mainstream Media

We took great satisfaction in reading in a USA Today article today that it was not legendary investigative reporters Seymour Hersh or Michael Issikoff or even Matt Drudge who broke the latest major story about the Bush Administration's most recent attempt to thwart terrorists at the expense of Americans' civil liberties. Rather, it was a Care2 member, posting in our own Care2 News Network back on December 28th, who broke this major national story.

It's pretty amazing, actually, that mainstream journalists overlooked this bombshell statement by the president, as he was signing into law the just-passed postal reform act. But our intrepid Care2 member, "Dave C," did not overlook it. He spotted the item buried in a press release on the White House website, and became outraged at the idea that the president now was asserting the right to search through citizens' private mail without a warrant. So Dave C decided to spread the word via his favorite social network -- Care2. Later, the mainstream reporters realized they had been scooped and they've been trying to catch up ever since.

So what is the moral of the story for nonprofit sector online communications professionals?

First, never underestimate the power of social networks to help the Fourth Estate do their jobs properly and shine a bright light on what our government is doing. ("Thank you, Dave C!")

Second, when it comes to using people-powered online news networks to spread your message, it probably always makes sense to use the big dog, Digg.com. But while you're at it: Consider also using the Care2 News Network, which is one of the largest such networks (after Digg) and just may have the highest per capita concentration of values-driven and civically-active folks on the Web. As Dave C just proved, Care2 members really do make a difference in all sorts of ways -- even by serving as "Town Criers" when personal freedoms are threatened.

Looking further into this whole subject of Web-enabled citizen journalism, you will find a convergence of technologies, services, providers and skillsets that are contributing to the potential for a sea change in journalism.  Consider this: Video, audio, photo,  and text are blooming in ways we have never experienced before.  Relatively new services like YouTube, Yahoo! You Witness News and ABC's Be Seen and Be Heard are supporting video, while entrenched blogs are hosting thousands of pictures, text and audio files.  Even mobile phones can now post video, photos and text posts to social networks and citizen journalism outlets.

For example, I was struck recently by an article in The Washington Post entitled, "Chasing the Heat." It's about a group of private citizens in Washington , D.C. who, among other things, videotape the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department.  Part of what amazed me is that these citizen journalists operate in the middle of the night despite holding regular day jobs.  I was also impressed to learn that they only respond to blazes of two alarms or more.  So the level of commitment is incredibly high for a volunteer crew, don't you think?  That said, at least one of the people sells his tapes to media outlets, so his commitment is a more than merely volunteerism.

So it appears that citizen journalism is on the rise, and with it -- social news networks. After all, the technology for capturing photos and video is finally affordable and easy to use, the people have an appetite for this kind of news, there are plenty of people willing to produce the content, and the services are in place to host the media. This is a recipe ripe for success.

But with all this information, how do we tell the wheat from the chaff?  It appears that Care2 and other social networks are well positioned to provide the means by which the community can determine relevance and bring important issues to the fore.  Within these social networks, the people-powered news networks enable the community to contribute stories and to vote for stories, thereby raising the rankings and increasing the exposure of the topic. 

That's exactly what happened when the Care2 News Network scored 54 "note it" recommendations for the story about the postal reform bill. If you compare this approach to traditional print media, you quickly see the potential for getting news faster, with more relevance to your values and interests based on the communities you join, and with far more exposure to topics that would otherwise get swept under the rug.  For these reasons, social news networks will likely contend very well with traditional news outlets in the near future. And that kind of competition is good for the (news) consumer!