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What is citizen reporting?
You may have heard about it in the context of Twitter. Over at Social Citizens, Kristin Ivie blogged about how Twitter reporting has revolutionized the ways we gather and spread news. With the click of a button, any tweeter can post an instant update, automatically sharing snippets of information with Internet users around the world. When a new story breaks, tweets are often the fastest, most easily updated source of information ... even if that information is not completely accurate. As Twitter continues to grow in popularity and reach, it is time to reevaluate how we consume our news and how we can generate news ourselves.
In addition to microblogging sites like Twitter, news sites themselves are changing to welcome everyday citizens to create and share news. There is a new breed of hyperlocal sites, which have emerged as a trend. Hyperlocal sites generally gather news articles, blog posts, and other information that relates to particular location (ranging from a large city to an individual block). Often, these news aggregates are supplemented with user-generated content and encourage citizens to post updates and photos, report crimes and issues, and engage in discussions with their neighbors. Here are a few examples of innovative and interactive hyperlocal sites that are changing the way people experience the news:
- EveryBlock,“a news feed for your block,” provides access to location-relevant news, with the options of browsing citywide or honing in on a specific neighborhood or block. With the option to sign up for email alerts or subscribe to the RSS feed for a particular block, you can receive continuous updates about what’s going on in your area. Through the website or via the iPhone app, you can access public records, media mentions, real estate listings, crime reports, local deals, and more. The site encourages you to add your own content, whether it is reviewing a restaurant, requesting a civic service, or participating in an online conversation. Unfortunately, EveryBlock is not available everywhere yet - it is limited to sixteen cities in the U.S.
- Patch.com aggregates tweets, news articles, events, and directory information about a particular neighborhood in an easy-to-use website. You can add your own announcements, comments, events, photos, videos, and reviews while engaging in discussions with others in your area. A particularly exciting feature is the “volunteer” section on Patch, which is dedicated to connecting volunteers with local causes and charities. Patch also gives back through its “Give 5” program, donating 5% of its ad space to charitable organizations and committing five days of each year to volunteer service.
- TBD.com is a website established in August 2010 that focuses on hyperlocal news coverage in the metropolitan D.C. area. The site features citywide stories as well as community news (based on zip code) and a network of blogs that focus on specific areas of interest. As Kristin Ivie mentioned in her post on the Social Citizens blog, TBD is like a one-stop shop for local news, covering a network of other websites and blogs in addition to original updates from contributors called “community-outreach specialists.” TBD is also dedicated to engaging citizens through discussion, crowdsourced stories, and a tool called “Complete the Story,” which gives you the option to add to published stories by uploading your own photos or writing in missing details.
It’s not just news aggregators that are getting involved in the hyperlocal trend - other sites and platforms are using geo-location technology to take citizen reporting to a local level:
- SeeClickFix is a platform accessible via web, widget, and mobile app that allows users to browse, post and track complaints about issues in their neighborhood. The goal is to empower citizens to become actively involved in their communities by giving them the tools to raise civic issues and hold city officials accountable. Groups and organizations can also use SeeClickFix to monitor issues that are relevant to them and collaborate to devise solutions.
- Ushahidi is a web-based platform through which citizens can submit digitally mapped reports in their area. Ushahidi was originally created to crowdmap violent incidents in Kenya in 2008 but has since been applied to a variety of campaigns, including tracking crime in Atlanta, monitoring elections in the Sudan, mapping post-earthquake crisis information and response efforts in Haiti, and coordinating cleanup efforts following the 2010 blizzard in Washington, D.C. The Unsung Peace Heroes campaign used the Ushahidi platform to nominate “ordinary people who did extraordinary things” during the period of post-election violence in Kenya, demonstrating the potential of crowdmapping to track and inspire positive change.
Although some mainstream news outlets are also opening up and welcoming citizen input (for instance, CNN has a channel on their site called iReport that allows individuals to submit stories), hyperlocal sites seem to demonstrate a clearer focus on deepening community involvement, engaging their readers in dialogue, and bringing people together not just online, but also in the real world. In addition to sharing information about what’s going on in a particular area, these sites can empower everyday citizens to raise the issues that are important to them, find solutions, and connect with the places and people around them.
What do you think of hyperlocal sites and citizen reporting? How can they be further leveraged for social good?
Guest blogger Lauren Scherr is an intern for the Case Foundation.