One Million iReporters: Is PR Ready?

by PR Coach on January 24, 2012

CNN and citizen journalism

CNN reaches 1 million iReporters

Recently, CNN reported it now has one million registered iReporters in its citizen journalism community. Imagine. Is PR ready to respond?

What other newsroom can possibly compete and what are the PR implications of these citizen journalists crowdsourcing news from around the globe?

The news channel’s CNN iReport site was completely redesigned, revamped and reinvigorated in November 2011. It launched Open Story, a storytelling tool that allows its citizens journalists and community to participate in the news in real-time. And it released a custom-built app for Android dramatically extending the reach of its iReporters to another platform.

Recent stories include New Years celebrations around the globe; Occupy Wall Street protests; East coast earthquake; Hurricane Irene; and more. In many cases, such as the London riots the pictures and video footage are dramatic and reporting ranges from acceptable to exceptional.

All presented online and often used to break stories such as the death of Osama bin Laden. Or to provide updates on tragedies and news stories around the world from locations where the nearest reporter or stringer and camera are hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

All filing and updating constantly.

The biggest problem is that many citizen journalists have no editors. Even CNN admits it vetts only 8% of the 500-plus iReport stories it receives daily according to Craig Silverman.

In broad terms, citizen journalism comes with big challenges for PR:

  • traditional media relations “rules” no longer apply; contacting a “reporter” is nearly impossible
  • news is instant, 24 x 7, unfiltered, global and viral
  • editorial oversight is limited or in many cases nonexistent; no fact-checking, re-edits or sober second thought at many sites
  • many and varied agendas of “reporters”
  • corrections are rare if not impossible
  • media competition usually means getting it first and not necessarily getting it right.

How Should Public Relations Respond to Citizen Journalism?

So with such big challenges, what’s a PR pro to do? Here are a few initial ideas:

  • prepare in advance and manage risk forward
  • listen, monitor and analyze traditional and social media for negative comment, trending issues or opportunities
  • be available; does your website provide easy access, 24 x 7 if necessary?
  • respond quickly to issues and seek corrections;
  • balance a developing story if badvocates hijack the story or agenda; credible media try for balance
  • create and update media contacts constantly
  • develop your own new information and social media channels, in advance, wherever possible
  • get your own information together fast and distribute it as soon as possible
  • remember, Internet and TV are visual media; sometimes good pictures or video can get you a higher position in a story if you can offer it quickly; prepare in advance if you can
  • sign up as an iReporter?

CNN iReportMy ‘sign up as an iReporter’ suggestion is offered tongue-in-cheek but there is no reason not to respond like one in an emerging crisis.

Ironically, citizen journalism presents similar challenges for media itself as well but CNN seems to have them well in hand so far. Wikipedia provides a good overview and links to resources on citizen journalism.

Prominent citizen journalism sites include BlottR, Demotix, Allvoices, Wikinews, Digital Journal, Newsvine, Patch.com and Citizenside,

What do you think about citizen journalism? Do you trust them? Are they credible? Have you ever pitched a story or engaged with a citizen journalist? Do they add value to stories or are you getting tired of jerky cell phone images and inaudible interviews?

Most important, are you ready to engage, especially in a crisis? Would love to hear from you and your suggestions on how to respond in the comments below.

We’ve got lots more resources in the PR Library including media training, online crisis management and media relations. You can also get weekly PR and PR 2.0 insight by signing up for our blog or getting it in your favorite RSS reader.

More Reading on Citizen Journalism

It’s a growing phenomena, a huge topic, a spirited debate and a trend PR people need to keep in sight. The smart PR pro will keep asking “What if I was in that latest citizen journalist report?” Here are just a couple of good reads to whet your appetite:

11 websites citizen journalists should know about  [TNW]
2011: the year of the citizen journalist?
[BlottR]
A New Year’s Wish – Journalism curmudgeons, please get over it
  [Knight Digital Media Center]
All Posts in Citizen Journalism
  [Media Shift-PBS archive]
As online news overtakes television, opportunities for citizen engagement with the news increase
[Online Journalism Review]
Citizen Journalism
[Public Sphere Project]
Citizen journalism
[Wikipedia]
Citizen Journalist Demonstrates How to Stand Up to NYPD
  [reason: hit & run]
Dangers of Citizen Journalism
?  [Online Journalism Review]
Debunking the Replacement Myth [Knight Digital Media Center]
Encouraging grassroots journalism as a defense against news blackouts
[Online Journalism Review]
How Citizen Journalism Is Reshaping Media and Democracy
  [Mashable]
How CNN’s iReport enhanced the network’s coverage of the Japan earthquake and its aftermath
[Nieman Journalism Lab]
How CNN’s iReport verifies its citizen content
[Poynter.org]
The pros and pros of ‘citizen journalism’
[Online Journalism Review]
What happens when journalism is everywhere?
[GigaOM]
What is Participatory Journalism?
[Online Journalism Review]
Why CNN’s Digital Strength May Cause Problems For Fox
  [paidContent.org]

Author: Jeff Domansky