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The unexpected result of media innovation: citizen journalism

citizen journalism citizen journalism
Photo credit:

Karl Fankowski 

Mobile, internet and tech disruption within journalism has enabled anyone with internet access to write a breaking story, as media platform Blasting News has realised.

“Journalism needs a revolution.”

Andrea Manfredi is very serious about this, so serious in fact that he turned this idea into an international, online social platform for citizen journalism in less than 2 years.

“I always wanted to be a journalist…but I had very little help and that made it very difficult get into [the Italian media].”

By that, Manfredi means that journalism isn’t the most meritocratic career to pursue, which is important to note as Manfredi discusses the model that Blasting News operates around.

“I wanted to create a platform where anyone could join and express their own story.”

It’s increasing the influence of citizen journalism, of sorts, but Manfredi sums it up simply:

“It’s a home for stories and facts and news from anyone, anywhere, because traditional media outlets and journalism schools are a very closed world.”

Blasting News therefore is attempting to increase the independent nature of freelance journalists and citizen journalism in response to an ever competitive media market, a growing digital readership and an industry still transitioning to meet their audiences demands.

Technology has had a clear influence on nearly every sphere of influence now: finance, advertising, health, communication and now, journalism.

Mobile news apps, improved video and audio embedding, data and infographics, drones even; these have all contributed to a changing structure of a very traditional market, but the main difference between journalism and any other industry undergoing a tech-transformation is its resistance to such change.

Where others have embraced technology, journalism – and its leaders – have distrusted.

“Studies show that the more journalists you have, the stronger and better the information you have is.”

It is research like this that is scaring traditional media outlets because the move from print to online means organizations can’t afford many full-time journalists anymore, which leads to that initial distrust and then grudging (on the whole) acceptance of technology.

But Manfredi’s opinions on the rise of citizen journalism is not inline with the general population.

“I wanted people to write their own story, for people to know that they’re reading unbiased stories from people writing about their own experiences.”

Which is why ideas like Blasting News, that represents the view of the public through citizen journalism, rather than the industry, can do so well.

Technology means that now anyone can write a story, wherever they are. That’s why traditional journalism is scared.

Blasting News started in Italy, 2013, with no plans on spending money on marketing – Manfredi and his team simply reached out to a number of freelance journalists and let word of mouth do the rest.

In less than 6 months, that original few turned to 5,000 blasters (Blasting News writers) operating in Italy; readership figures grew daily.

As of May 2015, 12 months later again, and after setting up (online platform) shop across Europe, South America and Australia, Blasting News receives around 20 million unique visitors per month.

“We are experiencing massive growth because people have a strong desire to collaborate and they want to do something for their communities.”

Topics range from international opinion pieces to factual hyper-local news stories from a largely younger writer base, “…they’re more likely to be curious and question the world…” and of course they now have the opportunity to write for an audience of several million people.

Despite the success, general arguments still persist to attack citizen journalism. One important argument against crowdsourcing-like models is quality assurance.

Blasting News has no editors and subeditors per-se. Instead they have introduced a ranking system of where trusted blasters rise through the ranks, with more responsibility of checking other stories from newer writers.

Alternatively, algorithms are used to sift through plagiarism, human error and semantic grammar checks. This speeds up to process much faster as a platform, especially when dealing with tens of thousands of writers around the world.

It’s difficult to see how investors would have responded to a citizen journalism pitch back in 2013.

We won’t find out however because this isn’t Manfredi’s first startup – a price comparison website back in 2010 was – and “the profits from this company have helped fund this second initiative.”

But he admits they’re two very different companies, not least because of the way Blasting News has had to incorporate and rely upon technology.

“Tech plays a very important part for us: we’re not a media company, we’re a platform and more than 50% of our staff are IT developers.”

The citizen journalism platform has encountered issues however that most other startups face, namely, the challenges of scaling.

“We are growing much faster than expected in certain countries and every country has it’s own style, its own culture, so we have to deal with these things at the same time with limited resources.”

For example, in Brazil, people like sharing their news on Facebook and it’s mainly mobile based – very much like Romania Manfredi explains – so Blasting News has to make sure that whoever writes for those markets is aware that their articles should be written to suit those platforms and sites.

“In Spain they rely much more on Google, so you must use a totally different way of writing [to Brazil and Romania] and sharing [their content] to maximize their revenues.”

(Blasters are paid differently according to the quality of their content and it’s online performance – an article can earn a writer up to around $150.)

And Blasting News, despite its citizen journalism model, isn’t necessarily a fringe site for community journalists.

“The most interesting news we’ve broken is the french gay ambassador to the Vatican who they refused to meet. It went viral and we were the first people to break the news.”

The journalists first asked Blasting News if it wanted the story, which they then agreed to but first had to verify the facts. Once confirmed, the writer was given the opportunity to write and publish.

This process took a matter of days.

“It was controversial and it gives us a feeling of what Blasting News can achieve; from our citizen journalism beginnings we want to grow and become a media institute.”

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