One Million iReporters: Is PR Ready?

by PR Coach

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, 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]
A New Year’s Wish – Journalism curmudgeons, please get over it  [Knight Digital Media Center]
All Posts in Citizen Journalism
  [Media Shift-PBS archive]
Citizen Journalism
[Public Sphere Project]
Citizen journalism
Citizen Journalist Demonstrates How to Stand Up to NYPD
  [reason: hit & run]
Debunking the Replacement Myth [Knight Digital Media Center]
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
What happens when journalism is everywhere? [GigaOM]
Why CNN’s Digital Strength May Cause Problems For Fox  []

Author: Jeff Domansky

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