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Citizen action: partnering with conventional news media

Citizen groups and citizen journalists are addressing social problems around the world. But they may still need traditional news organizations to help tell their stories.

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Several Knight News winners will also build tools to help solution journalists harness raw footage coming from the field: Tiziano 360 and Zeega provide multimedia story-telling platforms that let journalists turn citizen media into professional web packages. iWitness and Swiftriver aim to make it easier to aggregate and verify these reports. Meanwhile, FrontlineSMS: Media extends news-gathering to rural communities by using mobile signals – a hurdle that was discussed at length in Echoing Green’s Wednesday #mobileinnov Twitter chat.

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If journalists can successfully augment and amplify this citizen activity, then it has positive implications for the social sector – but also for civic media. This is a young movement that wrestles with the questions of "how communities get information, how communities produce information, and how people make decisions about becoming civically active," according to Ethan Zuckerman, founder of Global Voices and new head of MIT's Center for Civic Media (CFCM). Zuckerman cites the recent Twitter campaign organized by Saudi women drivers as a good example.

In an interview with Nieman Lab on Wednesday, Zuckerman said that as the new head of MIT's CFCM, he has two goals: to encourage productive public participation in civic media and to help marginalized voices be heard.

Traditionally, these have been challenges for the media. But if civic media looks to the social sector, it might find the partners it needs. Individuals already start organizations. Many citizens and volunteers generate media to document the evolution of their projects or solutions. Some may be more public relations than news – but that's why we have the "pro" part of "pro-am."

Dowser’s focus groups have found that social entrepreneurs list their top needs (besides funding) as inspiration, idea sourcing, validation, and space for collaboration. Many have important stories to tell and yearn to get their stories into the world. So instead of struggling to persuade a resistant public to participate in news production, perhaps we should reframe civic media to look at a sector where there's already ample supply. It’s time to revisit public journalism.

But this time, let's strike a more faithful balance between the coverage of problems and coverage of people working on solutions. Let's look to the citizen changemakers and make sense of how they are reshaping society.

This story originally appeared at Dowser. org.

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