6: You too can be a prosumer

The term "prosumer" was coined in 1980 by the futurist Alvin Toffler in his book The Third Wave as a blend of producer and consumer. He used it to describe a possible future type of consumer who would become involved in the design and manufacture of products, so they could be made to individual specification.

The Online Journalism Review defines "citizen journalism" as the collecting and publication of timely, unique, nonfiction information by individuals without formal journalism training or professional affiliation.
Examples include the publication of cellphone photos from a breaking news scene, blog reports covering local government meetings and discussion forums reporting results from international competitions.
If you can believe NowPublic and OhMyNews, there are more than six billion journalists ready to cover breaking news stories anywhere in the world.
NowPublic and OhMyNews, among others, see themselves on the cutting edge of news gathering by using citizen journalists, part of a growing trend that allows anyone with a digital camera and computer to upload images or news snippets to a home site.
This news is then disseminated via the Internet or, if NowPublic’s co-founder Len Brody's business plan works, straight to news agencies such as The Associated Press.
“I promise you, in 18 months NowPublic will be, by reach, the largest news agency in the world,” Brody said in a July 30 Agence France-Presse story.
With nearly 120,000 contributors in more than 140 countries, NowPublic has resources most agencies can’t dream of.
According to Brody, when deadly Cyclone Gonu hit Oman in early June, NowPublic had posted eight photos of the devastation before AP’s bureau chief in Saudi Arabia had left home to cover the story.
That kind of efficiency has become so impressive that the Vancouver-based company, which is growing at a rate of 35 per cent per month, scored a $10.6 million financing deal on July 29.
The funding will be used to start compensating reporters, says Brody.
Using the public to gather news isn’t new.
The U.S. Geological Survey gets tens of thousands of hits every time an earthquake strikes Southern California. Residents report what they felt and the USGS processes this data in real time to generate zip-code maps that depict the intensity of the quake throughout the region.
This works because the USGS is a central source for earthquake information.
In the event of breaking news, there is no obvious single source for citizen journalists to submit their reports.
After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, dozens of missing persons websites sprang up as people tried to locate friends and family in the region.
It is situations such as these that newspapers and their citizen journalists could shine by becoming that central information repository.
Of course, just because someone has a camera and Internet connection doesn't mean they are a journalist.
To watch over citizen journalists, Online Journalism Review contributor Mark Glaser proposed the role of a professional “citizen media editor.”
The CME would be responsible for cleaning copy, fact checking, looking for copyrighted material and clearing the story of anything libelous, all while keeping the citizen reporter motivated enough to continue to work for little or no pay.
Unfortunately, appointing CMEs opens a can of worms. Stories and forum posting that are not moderated aren’t held to the same legal standards as those that are overseen by an editor or moderator, says Dan Burnett, a leading Canadian media lawyer.
"The current state of the law is in a bit of flux without much Canadian precedent, but based on English law, it is likely that an organization that permits citizens to post material would be liable if they were acting in a pre-editing fashion so they have knowledge of it—like the way newspapers are liable for the letters to the editor they publish. . . . So knowledge basically equals liability," Burnett said in an e-mail.
Both MSNBC.com and Greensboro, N.C.'s News-Record.com use citizen journalists and both admit they are still working out the protocol for editing submissions.
“We’re making the rules as we go along,” said News-Record.com editor John Robinson in an Online Journalism Review article.
So far those two sites, as well as others such as the NorthwestVoice.com and Venturacountystar.com default to the position that, since the site represents their paper, it should be held to the same standards as the print edition.
However, citizen journalists can also be used for duties other than news gathering.
At the VenturaCountyStar.com, assistant managing editor John Moore used to write a blog that gave readers a peek at what stories the paper considered for its front page. Their opinions were then taken into consideration.
And that may spawn a whole new genre of citizen journalism, "citizen editors."

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