Keeping the Rabble Out of Citizen Journalism

Firewall JournalismPretend you run a medium-size newspaper in a medium-size town. Say you've decided it's time to jump on the citizen journalism bandwagon, but because of the nature of this particular town, there's a small kink to iron out first. Although this is a medium-size town—and growing at an alarming rate—your paper has no real competition; it's the only daily paper in town, and represents the sizable conservative population in the area. There used to be another paper, but you bought them out so many years ago that virtually no one even remembers it anymore. There's a small, free, independent weekly that leans in the other direction, but although it's done rather well over the years—especially considering the aforementioned conservative demographic—it's an apples/oranges comparison because . . . well, because your paper makes a lot more money. It's an established daily, and it ain't free.

The kink is that pesky wrong-side-of-the-tracks crowd. They're the people who neither subscribe to your paper nor its editorial policy; they get their news from other sources, and consider your paper little more than a yellow sheet. Actually, it was widely considered a yellow sheet way back when the other paper—the one you bought and shut down—was still in existence; it isn't just a matter of a few leftist hippies in the community saying so now. Anyway, the more progressive folks haven't exactly taken over the town, but they continue to make headway. They tend to be ensconced in certain neighborhoods, and frighteningly, those areas seem to be growing.

The big problem is what could happen if those . . . um, other people . . . were to be given a voice on the new citizen journalism portion of your Web site. They could really muck things up! They'd be contradicting and even ridiculing the desirable demographic; there would be anarchy, and chaos. And once word got out there'd be others from all over; the whole freaking planet—or at least the non-ultraconservative side of it—could, in theory, log in with negative comments. Sure, we'd have editors, but sooner or later people would figure it out; eventually, they'd realize that only certain kinds of citizens are journaling on our site, and only certain kinds of comment make it into publication.

How to keep the rabble out, while still maintaining the appearance of new-media progress, and equity? Eureka! You create neighborhood news sites, where specific sections of your town are represented in your online citizen journalism community. Which sections? Those that are demographically desirable, of course. In any town, there are good neighborhoods and bad; the distinction is largely a matter of which zip codes you find most familiar, and comfortable. By selectively creating only those online neighborhoods known to be sympathetic to—if not aligned with—your own ideology, the risk of invasion by undesirables is reduced to the point of insignificance.

Think this online gated-community scenario can't happen in the context of citizen journalism? Based on what I found floating around on the Net this morning, I think it already has.



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