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Citizen journalism thrives in Occupy Wall Street coverage

Citizen journalism thrives in Occupy Wall Street coverage

Occupy Wall Street: the American protest movement that seemed to have sprung from nowhere and may have been going nowhere - or so many people thought until Saturday October 1, when protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City and 700 people were arrested.

Simply look at the events calendar on the movement's website and you will see that its members have a broad range of political goals and, consequently, the actions backed by Occupy Wall Street range from everything including 'slut walks' to anti-nuclear demonstrations. What their members all have in common is that they are "the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%" Inspired by uprisings in the Arab World, this "leaderless resistance movement" has provided another example of how social media can create mass mobilization.

Form the perspective of the media, perhaps what is most interesting is what has not been said about the movement; Occupy Wall Street claims it has not been given adequate coverage by mainstream media outlets, although coverage via user generated content, through sites such as Citizenside, has proved popular. It is this kind of independent citizen journalism together with social networks - as opposed to traditional media outlets - that has been the driving force behind the movement's popularity and media presence.

Philip Trippenbach, Editor-in-Chief of Citizenside, tells us about his company's growing presence in the US, why sites like Citizenside hold appeal for independent, grass-roots reform movements such as Occupy Wall Street and why being a center for political discussion is a good thing.

Is Citizenside proving a popular means of photo-sharing/photo publishing in the U.S.?

Trippenbach: Obviously we have some members in the US, We're not as well known as we could be, we're still a relatively young company. Most people are still sharing photos on flickr and Youtube, so those are very popular channels. Now, that being said, my editorial team is basically tying all of those platforms together, contacting people, trying to find out what's going on, so we can try and get more people to contribute to Citizenside.

The reason that we are all doing this is because, basically, there's a better, more efficient way of aiding and conducting the business of journalism. Nobody is a better expert than the people who are actually there, on the site, living and breathing this story every day. For all the expertise and knowledge of context that a detached professional journalist might have, frankly there's sometimes just no substitute for being right there, in the heart of the action and being one of the people to whom the story is actually happening. So, Citizenside exists as a platform to take advantage of that massive opportunity for journalism.

As Citizenside is a tool for citizen journalism, is it an ideal tool for people inside "leaderless social movements" such as OccupyWallStreet?

Is it the ideal tool? Well, it depends on what you want to do. If you're talking about publicising the activists' side of the story, I'd say yes, it's a good tool. It's got two advantages: one, yes you can post your videos to YouTube, you can post your videos to Flickr, but your videos on YouTube are competing with the funny cat video that has six and a half million views, or Lady GagGa videos and all that jazz, so it's kind of hard to get attention in a context like that, where as we are specifically focused on news.

Secondly, the big advantage of Citizenside is that it's kind of the pro-am nexus: we are the connection between pro journalism and citizen journalism. The editorial team here are all professional journalists, so we are there, constantly on the networks, trying to find the best of what's out there, always trying to verify the material that's coming in and check it and make sure that all the stuff that's being posted with us is legit.

And then finally, of course, there is the onward path of all the material that comes in to us. We work with press agencies, so people can subscribe to us- existing publications and existing media brands subscribe to us - we then licence our users' media to them and not only is that good for the user because it gets them some cash, but it is also good for the user because it gets their message spread even more widely.

OccupyWallStreet has complained it has not been given fair or sufficient coverage by mainstream media; does Citizenside play a role in correcting this alleged lack of fair coverage?

Well what's 'fair coverage' really depends on your point of view; this is a classic example. We are not an objective news agency - we don't pretend to be an objective news agency. Based on the fact that objectivity itself doesn't exist, it's very good and very desirable to seek to be objective, but the most important thing for us is not objectivity but authenticity. We fact-check all our videos, our photos and all our material so we can say 'yes, this person was actually in the place where they say they were and they took this picture at this time'. So the pictures are genuine, they are authentic. Of course, we have got thousands of members and our output combines thousands of different points of view put together, but it's genuine stuff, it's what those people saw. This is eye witness testimony; typically, what a journalist will do is go to the site of an event, interview lots of eyewitnesses and then formulate some sort of synthesis from what all those eye witnesses have said and construct their own version of events.

I suppose what we are doing here is presenting journalism in a more raw form. We are not giving you the cooked, processed amalgam of eyewitness testimony that you would find in your typical pro journalism, we are giving you the raw stuff: this is what the people who were there saw. Boom.

And fundamentally, just like with any journalism, I suppose, it's up to the reader to make up his or her mind. Except that with us, that assumption is much less hidden, actually. You always have to view any form of journalism critically, if you are just accepting what any journalist is telling you then you're a fool, quite frankly - and I say that as a journalist - but in the case of Citizenside, it's got the varnish stripped away. It's the raw product.

How does Citizenside feel about playing host to political communities? In situations such as the demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct 1st, which prompt photo sharing from a specific community (i.e. those involved with the protest) do you find that the Citizenside website becomes a place for conversation?

I would like it be much more so; qualitatively it's true, [people are discussing the content,] but quantatively there's not a lot of that going on. So, yes there is discussion but at the moment, I think that these effects are quite limited, there's not as much discussion as there could be. The Occupy Wall Street Protests are still organising mostly on their own website or on Twitter or that kind of channel. Yes, our site could become a much bigger forum of discussion for a particular political group, but that's fine, they have the right to air their opinions. The central point is that the conversations that happen are organised around genuine, authentic and verified information; as far as we can tell, according to the best of our team professional journalists' abilities, we have verified all that.

If you go onto the site The Daily Mail, for instance, in the UK, you're going to find some discussion from a very particular political position - and that's their prerogative. That's cool. We want people to come and discuss ours.

So you are essentially providing a stimulus for discussion?

I should hope so. If we're not doing that then what is this all for. The whole idea is to inform people and to make some sort of meaningful difference, and if they are talking about our content, where ever they are talking about it, whether it's on Twitter or on any page, then that's good as far as I'm concerned. The more the merrier!

Sources: Citizenside, occupywallstreet.org, Owni.eu, Trippenbach.com, original interview with Philp Trippenbach



Katherine Travers


2011-10-04 18:32

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