Why Participation Journalism is Good for You and Your Readers

For as long as I have been reading news on the internet, I have been reading nytimes.com. Since my family didn’t subscribe to the dead tree version, this allowed me to read huge portions of one of the best newspapers in the world.

I even checked it during a vacation in Rome to find out about Valentino’s retirement celebrations after witnessing a public rehearsal.

So yesterday it was a bit of a surprise when I woke up to this one line email on Facebook.

Did I just see you on a New York Times iPad video?”


The process was pretty simple: well known NYTimes technology journalist David Pogue sent out this tweet:

I sent back a quick email, got the script, captured a few takes of the necessary shots (no small feat when I haven’t ‘acted’ in anything for 10+ years) and sent off a converted version of the video file.

Then I tried to forget about it.

Turns out my role in the David Pogue video is small – I’m one of 20 pre-scripted people shooting from webcams in their homes saying and doing things he instructed by email.

But in finally seeing it up on the web, where millions can access it and it can be linked, posted on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere else, it’s cool to see how one small tweet can get people from around the world to contribute in a such an interesting visual way.

Yes, it may be pretty cheesy in it’s entirely pre-scripted nature. But the video clearly illustrates a few things journalists need to keep in mind when doing journalism based online and around new media.
  1. Twitter, while not the most important tool, is an extremely useful one when looking for multiple sources of opinion and participation for a project – be it an article, podcast or online video.
  2. The web extends your reach for participants and sources to places around the world at little to no cost and relatively low effort.
    Everyone in this video saw Pogue’s tweet, sent him an email and then sent him a video – there was no long distance charges from reaching Alessandro in Italy, there was no tape to convert and all the editing was done digitally through a program like FinalCutPro.
  3. For new journalists, these are opportunities to get your face out there (and get over being camera shy).
    In October I did something similar for the CP24 show Webnation. I shot another video lasting 30 seconds from my room on my webcam, sent it to her by email and suddenly found myself on television later that afternoon. When I met host Amber MacArthur a few weeks later, she remembered who I was from that experience and encouraged me to keep trying for similar opportunities. “When I was in journalism school, we didn’t have this,” she said. “I would have signed up all the time if I could.”
  4. This is a chance to see, interact and recognize with readers.
    So often we have debates about anonymous vs. anonymous comments and the problems with getting readers and viewers to participate without the situation devolving into immature, insulting or racist remarks from people like Becky123.
    But here you have 20 people (well, 19 and the Video Professor) who are willing to say their names, show their faces and take their own time to email a journalist, give them content and help complete a slightly different approach to a technology subject already covered to death.
I’m still terribly camera shy and part of me wishes I had also been given a solo part. However, I’m glad that I tried something I was incredibly afraid of and pushed myself to do something new.

And I got to check off my goal of being in the New York Times before the age of 25! Honestly, that’s pretty neat.
[This post was first published on NotJSchool, a Ning Social Network]
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4 thoughts on “Why Participation Journalism is Good for You and Your Readers

  1. Nice one! A very insightful post. I’m thinking of making a (part) crowd sourced documentary in Japan soon. Twitter will certainly play a part.

  2. There is so much possibility of “being seen” and interacting with readers — for authors, as well. Saturday, for instance, I had the privilege of seeing my book appear in the brand new iPad iBooks library. The Apple guy in charge of the display agreed to take my photo, holding my book, and I twittered it with a thank you note to the person responsible for getting 2,000 Indie books into the llibrary (Mark Koker), including mine. Mark liked the photo and sent it out (with a story about indie books) to his blog. This type of instant publicity and interaction was virtually impossible before social networking. Love it!

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