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Relationships Are Crucial to Collaborative Journalism
[Opinion] Communication between citizen reporter and editor is very important
Ana Maria Brambilla (brambilla)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2007-04-19 12:01 (KST)   
Last week, a young man attending my lecture at university about collaborative journalism asked: "You're saying that professional journalists are necessary in the collaborative process, especially to promote citizen reporting and to edit the content, but ... doesn't that make us work harder than in the traditional system?"

I heaved a sigh of relief! Yes! He had understood my point of view and naturally was scared by the idea.

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The extent of on-the-job dedication by professional journalists required to help citizen reporters make their submissions and rephrase what they are thinking into optimal language, makes demands of a kind that many traditional journalists aren't prepared for.

Proof of this occurs every time I see the thousands of submissions that arrive in the newsroom of Sou+Eu, my company's real-life magazine.

A small group of journalists reads, selects, edits and provides the "feedback" needed to support every contributor and guarantee that he/she will keep writing as part of the collaborative community.

In addition to the three standard first steps pertaining to conventional journalism, the most sensitive occurs in the context of the relationship established with the collaborator over time.

We gratefully tell them that their submission is under scrutiny and perhaps that some of the piece may not justify inclusion for publication. These are basic tasks for every journalist wanting to work in this collaborative process. To work nowadays in online journalism means that the market is growing almost on a daily basis, which applies also to involvement in collaborative journalism. How can the Internet work without collaboration?

When I was a college student instructors were telling me about the Internet, not about collaboration. That was just three years ago, before the enthusiasm for citizen journalism had caught fire. Even today, when the mainstream media are interested enough to invest in citizen startup initiatives, some professionals are defensive about distinguishing professional journalists from citizen reporters.

For clarification I exchanged views with a former instructor and seasoned TV journalist Flavio Porcello. He backed the viewpoint of a large number of practicing newsroom journalists. Asked if he was prepared to work on a collaborative newspaper, side-by-side with citizen reporters, he replied:

"No, I wouldn't be. I think journalists should be intermediaries; it's necessary to study to be a journalist, to acquire experience, to be able to distinguish information from opinion. With due respect for citizen input, I think a citizen is a citizen, not a reporter."

He does, however, believe the interchange of opinion to be beneficial, if restricted to blogs only, which, to be trustworthy, would require the endorsement of respected journalists who have garnered a high reputation on the basis of their by-lines in print newspapers.

He cites the existence of 70 million blogs worldwide and the daily creation of another 120,000 but thinks the responsibility of bloggers/citizen reporters pales into insignificance besides that of professional print journalists.

This would almost lead one to the conclusion that professionals are, if not a breed apart, at least more responsible, something with which I can partly agree.

This deep responsibility journalists bear is discharged in how they work with their sources, in the case of print professionals, and at least as much with their collaborators, in the case of online professionals.

I was infuriated last month as a participant in a technology bootcamp during a discussion of citizen journalism to hear that feedback for collaborators is not a journalist's obligation, an idea mooted by a journalist named Celia Santos. In her view, providing feedback could make her job impossible.

The satisfaction expressed by collaborators after getting feedback is something to behold. They manifest it with anything from a simple "thanks for your attention," to "thanks for this opportunity!" To "hearty thanks for your attention and care in encouraging me to carry on telling my life stories. Sometimes I get very down in fighting against the monster of preconception ..." To "hi, friend! I was very happy when I read your e-mail. I held the biggest party! Thank you so much! You can be sure I'll send other stories of my life. A big hug from your friend."

If some content isn't accepted for any reason a ground rule is to give feedback to the author. Another collaborator wrote me some weeks ago: "Thanks for your comprehension, attention and respect for me. Carry on this professionally and your future will be wonderful."

Frustration can follow rejection, of course, and dealing with it can sometimes be very difficult. Rejected authors often want to know -- why the refusal? And they deserve to know. Moreover, in these cases journalists MUST point out what is amiss in the submission and help that collaborator do better next time.

To deal with this respectfully demands long and patient consideration and makes the collaborative journalist's job rather more difficult and complex. More than an editor or fact checker, a professional journalist on a collaborative newspaper must promote dialog and be a channel of communication between the readership and the content provider. So if you're thinking of becoming a journalist or you're beginning to work on the Internet be prepared to talk much more than tell.
Ana Brambilla is a Brazilian journalist and works with collaborative journalistic projects.
©2007 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ana Maria Brambilla

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