The citizen journalists of SMCLA met face to face with a panel of professional journalists this week at the Mahalo offices in Santa Monica to discuss “Citizen Journalism: How Social Media Effects How We Report and Consume News“.

SMCLA panelists for the citizen journalism panel

(L to R: Geoff Brown, Christina Gagnier, Andrew Sternberg, Alexia Tsotsis, David Sarno, Chris Tolles)

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On Citizen Journalism

David: Citizen journalism has lots of future potential. Big skills needed are: getting the story/process right, verification, sense of intuition, who to trust. These take time and patience to develop.

Andy: Accuracy is paramount, otherwise credibility is lost. One can’t jump to conclusions in details.

Chris: Massive amounts of information and stories are being made available on a faster basis as events suddenly happen. With this rapidity you have a variety of participants: professionals, amateurs, “truth tellers”, liars, spinners, propagandists.

Effects on News Consumption and Interpretation

Chris: Transitioned use to newsfeeds, aggregators (like his own site:, blogs, and social media. Understood to be publishing & promotional engines.

David: Greater monitoring of citizen journalism and social media for sentiment analysis. How are content creators, distribution intermediaries, feeling about the story? How are they reacting? Twitter is a great tool for that through keyword searches. (For example, you could use Twitter’s advanced search filters to find out what people think of the new Harry Potter movie)

Andy: Instantaneous opportunity to check what the grapevine is saying about a rumor, feeling, event, etc. Ex: earthquakes.  As an editor, rules haven’t changed much. Having at least two credible sources still important. Rules matter, but in these times there’s a feeling of wanting to scoop a story first, because others are doing so too. However, this leads to increased number of unconfirmed reports. There’s a definite need to have stories right versus having them first.

Christina: Social media helps intensely spread information. However, Twitter is still only used by a very small number of people. [She references story on especially low use by Milennials of ages 16-24]. Note: See article on 15yr. old Morgan Stanley intern who wrote work essay on How Teenagers Consume Media, and subsequent findings frenzy.

David: Let’s look at this from the perspective of journalism education. Technology is moving so fast and these trends are so quickly happening, they’re not being taught in schools. Many journalists and students aren’t getting the requisite skills to understand and adapt with the changing nature of the information production, dissemination, and consumption. It’s only to their career benefit if they do, at least from a risk mitigation standpoint.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Role of Investigative Journalism

Chris: It’s competing with the masses. Twitter is awesome, but it’s a giant mess! In journalism, narrative creation is highly important and valuable. Curation! Aggregation tools can help in the process. (Did we mention that Chris runs a news aggregation site:

Andy: Even though I’m a big fan of Twitter, I see it playing a small part in a larger holistic future of how investigative journalism is created, distributed, and consumed. 90% of the work is just getting out there and doing it. Monitoring, notes, verification, telephone calls, elaboration, editing. For simply capturing a potential story, always have a camera with you. Do some basic writing, tag the article, and send it out. Twitter is great as a resource and a conversational search engine.

Guidelines for Journalism

Alexia: Reuters Handbook for Journalism; quote from therein, “Always hold accuracy sacrosanct.”

Chris: Depends on who you’re reporting for.  (Traditional media outlets and professional reporters are held to a higher standard than citizen journalists.  If they don’t adhere to these standards, they can go to prison or draw lawsuits.  Citizen Journalists, not the same…)

David: Verifiability. Take the Iran Election as an example of where information was coming from all directions.  Make sure that the next person receiving your accounts/story can verify it as well, that way you’re also helping the next person(s) down the line. Makes dispersion frictionless.

Christina: Neiman Journalism Lab, Knight Foundation’s ProPublica, and nonprofit sector as legitimizers.

Audience Member, Serena: Society of Professional Journalists.

Andy: Resources are great. A developing question is what is appropriate and acceptable. Self-policing of journalistic quality is in effect. Rules are being made as we go along. Influencers like Jeff Jarvis, among many others, are giving guidelines.

Changing Landscape and the Future

Chris: Online classifieds were what paved the way for the killing of one of print news’ big revenue streams. No way that Craig’s List can be put back in the box.

David: Business model transformation though content licensing, affiliation, partnerships, “freemium” options. A simple fact is that the web is not good for reading extended copy because screens can become straining on the eyes. Print and electronic readers like Amazon’s Kindle make that much easier on the user.

Role of the Press Release: Is the traditional format and distribution dead?

Andy: I’m not actively looking for them. There are many channels through which they’re being dispersed and come across by chance through social media, other news media providers, and especially aggregators (ex: Google News). Of course, they’re continually coming into our email inboxes. The quality of those continued vary in terms of relevancy, good headlines, interesting story, embodied respect for editor’s time.

Christina: Personal interaction is still very important; ex: personalized initial/followup emails and phone calls.

Chris: The content of the release is what matters.

Sponsor Love:

SMCLA would not be possible without the support from our amazing sponsors. This event was made possible by:

Marc Salsberry
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Editor’s Note:  Big thanks to Mario Vellandi for volunteering to contribute this SMCLA recap post.  Mario is a writer/marketer based in the Los Angeles area and maintains the  Melodies in Marketing blog.