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Citizen journalists in OWAA

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BY PETER SCHROEDER
Members are encouraged to write about issues and topics. Views expressed do not represent the opinion or endorsement of OWAA, its staff, officers, directors or members. Opposing views are encouraged, as OWAA desires to create a forum for the exchange of ideas. Send commentary to editor@ owaa.org.
When my kids went away to college, I regularly mailed them letters, the hand-written kind. However, it wasn’t long before they told me to email them instead, because they would receive the correspondence instantly. So I learned how to send emails and everything was fine — at least for a while.
Then they asked me to IM (instant message) them instead, so we could correspond back and forth in real time. So I had to learn how to send IMs. But then they said it would be better to get a cell phone, and we could call each other whenever we wanted for minimal cost, since there would be no long-distance charges. So I got a cell phone.
But shortly after that, they said it would be better if I text messaged them from my cell phone. That way, their phone wouldn’t ring if they were in class and we could text each other even while they were taking notes during lectures. Once I got the hang of moving my thumbs across the small keypad and learned the abbreviated texting jargon, things went pretty well. But this, too, was short-lived. Next they said I should upgrade from my cell phone to a smartphone, which had a regular keypad, so it would be easier to text. Also, this way I could pick up emails. So I bought an iPhone.
By this time they were in graduate school. Now they told me I could just write on their Facebook wall (whatever that meant) or, if the message was short, I could tweet (yet another new frontier). In the evening when they were back in their dorms we could Skype, so we could talk and also see each other. (Wait — I have to comb my hair to talk to my kids on the phone?) And instead of mailing them photos, I should just post them on Snapfish or Picasa (for which I had to open a Google account).
This was all coming pretty fast, but eventually I got a Facebook account, signed on to Twitter, joined LinkedIn, learned how to Skype, posted photos on Picasa, and am now braced for the next techno-upgrade.
In the meantime, while I’ve been trying to figure out the online version of Outdoors Unlimited, my kids have built their own websites, produced YouTube videos, signed onto online forums, created podcasts and joined the blogosphere. By commenting on numerous subjects, many of which are the purview of traditional journalism, they have become “citizen journalists,” followed by thousands of people with whom they share a common interest.
If it hadn’t been for my kids dragging me reluctantly into the digital media era, I’d still be back in the Gutenberg age banging out copy on my old IBM Selectric. (Didn’t the font ball seem like a great leap forward?)
The point: The world of mass communication is moving fast into new directions and unless we as traditional journalists want to face extinction like the dinosaurs, we’d better learn these tools of new media and adapt accordingly.
An even bigger challenge to OWAA is figuring out how to integrate these so-called citizen journalists into our organization.
♦    ♦    ♦
Blogs, tweets, podcasts, YouTube videos — today, many “citizen journalists” use online social media to comment about the outdoors. The impact and credibility of these individuals can be significant — many are followed by thousands of people with whom they share their interests. Outdoor enthusiasts no longer depend exclusively on newspaper columnists, magazine writers or TV anchor people. The advice of the expert authority has been replaced by the collective wisdom of the crowd.
OWAA faces a challenge: how do we integrate citizen journalists into our organization? At the moment we do not have a membership category that fits these people working in the new media.
Here are some ideas that have been adopted by other writers groups facing this same issue. OWAA could establish a citizen journalist membership category that requires applicants to meet any four of the following five benchmarks:
1. Minimum one year of blogging, posting videos (on YouTube, Vimeo or a similar platform) online reporting, etc. on a social media website that allows response and feedback.
2. Income from a source other than PR firms, advertising agencies or commercial organizations.
3. Minimum two online written, audio, or visual updates per month (in season) that are editorial, not advertorial; redistribution of press releases does not qualify.
4. Minimum 500 page-views/hits per month, and must allow response feedback on the site.
5. Applicant must be responsible only for editorial content of a website and may not be involved in the selling of advertising.
Are these criteria broad enough, too restrictive, or incomplete?♦
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared as a two-part series in the April and May 2011 issues of Outdoors Unlimited. To read the rest of those publications, visit www.owaa.org/ou.
Peter Schroeder is a freelance writer and photographer. He specializes in recreational boating, cruising under sail, scuba diving, snow skiing, and worldwide adventure travel. Contact him at ptrschrdr@ aol.com.
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