Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Citizen Journalism in trouble as Backfence reorganizes

Posted by Tom Foremski - January 10, 2007


Dan Gillmor, the dean of citizen journalism, sold (or gave) his BayoSphere citizen journalism project to Backfence, a once-promising citizen journalism startup. Backfence, however, has run into problems as Amy Gahran, over at Poynter.org describes:

Backfence (which runs a high-profile family of hyperlocal citizen-media sites) announced a substantial retrenchment. CEO and co-founder Susan DeFife resigned, citing differences with the company's board of directors. Also, 12 of 18 employees were laid off.

Poynter.org: Backfence Backpedals: Money Lessons

Ms Gahran runs through many possible reasons why the venture has failed to succeed. Please see: Backfence Backpedals: Money Lessons

Tom's take: Citizen journalism is hard to do without a considerable involvement of professional editors. It is similar to trying to run a high school newspaper and requires a lot of work. Dan Gillmor discovered this with Bayosphere, which had a very small community involvement.

It is not enough just to put up a site and have a grateful army of citizen journalists populate it with great content. Journalism is not that simple.

Dan Gillmor's favorite refrain is that his readers know far more about the subject he writes about than he does. That might be true, but that doesn't mean they know how best to tell a story.

Often, they are not able to tell a story because they are too close to it--they might get into trouble. And journalists get to talk to a lot of people, they can add connections and relevancy, and improve upon news stories.

That's why we have professional journalists (and professional PR communicators). The job at hand is to help individuals, communities, organisations, and companies tell their stories in a compelling way. And the most compelling stories are true - and not spun.

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