One of the perceived Achilles heels of online citizen journalism is its perceived inability to conduct investigative and first-hand reporting. A number of projects have recently addressed this problem, with varying success: the U.S.-based Assignment Zero was described as "a highly satisfying failure" (Howe 2007), while the German MyHeimat.de appears to have been thoroughly successful in attracting a strong community of contributors, even to the point of being able to generate print versions of its content, distributed free of charge to households in selected German cities.
In Australia, citizen journalism played a prominent part in covering the federal elections held on 24 November 2007; news bloggers and public opinion Websites provided a strong counterpoint to the mainstream media coverage of the election campaign (Bruns et al., 2008). Youdecide2007.org, a collaboration between researchers at Queensland University of Technology and media practitioners at the public service broadcaster SBS, the public opinion site On Line Opinion, and technology company Cisco Systems, was developed as a dedicated space for a specifically hyperlocal coverage of the election campaign in each of Australia's 150 electorates from the urban sprawls of Sydney and Brisbane to the sparsely populated remote regions of outback Australia.
YD07 provided training materials for would-be citizen journalists and encouraged them to contribute electorate profiles, interview candidates, and conduct vox-pops with citizens in their local area. The site developed a strong following especially in its home state of Queensland, and its interviewers influenced national public debate by uncovering the sometimes controversial personal views of mainstream and fringe candidates. At the same time, the success of YD07 was limited by external constraints determined by campaign timing and institutional frameworks. As part of a continuing action research cycle, lessons learnt from Youdecide2007.org are going to be translated into further iterations of the project, which will cover the local government elections in the Australian state of Queensland, to be held in March 2008, and developments subsequent to these elections.
This paper will present research outcomes from the Youdecide2007.org project. In particular, it will examine the roles of staff contributors and citizen journalists in attracting members, providing information, promoting discussion, and fostering community on the site: early indications from a study of interaction data on the site indicate notably different contribution patterns and effects for staff and citizen participants, which may point towards the possibility of developing more explicit pro-am collaboration models in line with the Pro-Am phenomenon outlined by Leadbeater & Miller (2004).
The paper will outline strengths and weaknesses of the Youdecide model and highlight requirements for the successful development of active citizen journalism communities. In doing so, it will also evaluate the feasibility of hyperlocal citizen journalism approaches, and their interrelationship with broader regional, state, and national journalism in both its citizen and industrial forms.
Bruns, Axel, Jason Wilson, and Barry Saunders. "When Audiences Attack: Lessons from the Australian Poll Wars." Leeds: Centre for Digital Citizenship, 2008.
Howe, Jeff. "Did Assignment Zero Fail? A Look Back, and Lessons Learned." Wired 16 July 2007. 5 Feb. 2008 <http://www.wired.com/techbiz/media/news/2007/07/ assignment_zero_final>.
Leadbeater, Charles, and Paul Miller. "The Pro-Am Revolution: How Enthusiasts Are Changing Our Economy and Society." London: Demos, 2004. 25 Jan. 2007 <http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/proameconomy/>.