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Blogs, Citizen Journalism, and Their (Future) Role in Politics

My own keynote at this Web 2.0 and politics conference here in Gießen is next, in a session which discusses the possible impact of blogs, citizen journalism, and other forms of online political participation on wider political processes. My own thoughts as presented here build to some extent on the article I published in Information Polity earlier this year, and also draw on recent Australian examples (the role of Possums Pollytics in the Australian election campaign of 2007, and the new GetUp! project Project Democracy). I've posted the slides below, and will add the audio when I can the audio is now online, too.

Gendered News, Gendered Technologies

It's the final session here at AoIR 2008. I've come in a little late for Lisa McLaughlin's presentation; she's been working in Malaysia to examine the Multimedia Super Corridor project which incorporates the Cyberjaya (technology) and Putrajaya (administration) districts.

The project was initiated in 1996 with much fanfare, but met with limited success as companies approached to develop representations there were initially reluctant to do so as the availability of a highly skilled technology workforce was doubtful. There was also strong skepticism about the project from the local community, not least because the building of the MSC required the displacement of existing communities of Tamil plantation workers. If knowledge societies require 'fast subjects', then these existing communities were now pushed into a position of 'slow subjects' providing menial services to those working and living in the MSC.

Citizen and Hyperlocal Journalism as the Fifth Estate

As it turns out, I have two papers in this post-lunch session on the last day of AoIR 2008 - in competing sessions. Luckily, Lars Kirchhoff and Thomas Nicolai are on hand to present one of them (I'll post the slides for this as soon as I get them from the two) - and I'm here to present my paper with Jason Wilson and Barry Saunders on hyperlocal citizen journalism (understood here in a relatively broad sense).

The first speaker here is William Dutton from the Oxford Internet Institute, whose aim is to move beyond terms such as Netizen and citizen journalism and towards an understanding of various political uses of the Net as forming a fifth estate, in addition to the press as a fourth estate in society. Such uses promote social accountability in business, industry, government, politics, and other sectors.

Australia's Political Blogosphere in the Aftermath of 2007 Federal Election (AoIR 2008)

AoIR 2008

Australia's Political Blogosphere in the Aftermath of 2007 Federal Election

Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders, Lars Kirchhoff, Thomas Nicolai

  • 18 Oct. 2008 - AoIR 2008 conference, Copenhagen

Australian political bloggers and citizen journalists appear to have played an important role in the 2007 federal elections. They provided a highly critical corrective to mainstream journalism, seemed to influence public opinion on key election themes, and offered a coverage of political events which diverted from the customary focus on political leaders and bellwether locations only. Bloggers were wooed by political parties (such as the Australian Labor Party with its Labor First blog site), mainstream media (such as the online arm of public broadcaster ABC, which ran several blogs of its own), and journalism researchers (through projects such as, which provided a space for a hyperlocal citizen journalism coverage of the campaign in participants' individual electorates).

But what remains unclear to date is exactly how information travels within the distributed network of the blogosphere itself, and from here to other (online) spaces of citizen and industrial journalism. To trace such movements may underline (or undermine) news and political bloggers' claims of influence and importance; it would highlight the extent to which blogging operates merely as an echo chamber for the political cognoscenti, or has impact in the wider population. It would provide insight into the extent to which news bloggers and mainstream journalists feed off and respond to one another's work, and outline possible avenues for mutually beneficial collaborations.

This paper presents findings from an ongoing investigation into the inner workings of the Australian political blogosphere, which is based on a long-term process of gathering and archiving new content on a large number of Australian blogs and news sites. Such content is then analysed using a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures which enable the identification and visualisation of page and site interlinkages within and beyond the network of sites examined, and the tracing of themes and memes across the corpus of data gathered by the project.

The paper will outline the underlying research and data gathering methodologies, and highlight key findings from its investigation. In particular, it will examine the shift in online political communication in Australia as the country switched from election to post-election mode, and seek evidence of a paradigm shift in terms of key themes, issues, and opinion leaders as the defeated conservative Coalition government of John Howard was replaced by the incoming Labor government under new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Building Spaces for Hyperlocal Citizen Journalism

AoIR 2008

Building Spaces for Hyperlocal Citizen Journalism

Axel Bruns, Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders

  • 18 Oct. 2008 - AoIR 2008 conference, Copenhagen

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 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)., 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 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 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.

Tracing Trust and Power in Online Communities

The final session of this first day of AoIR 2008 begins with James Owens, whose focus is on online news and democratic communities. Interactive technology enables the production of new social formations, but can also reproduce existing social formations; this can be related especially also to local community formations. James is interested in three Chicago-based Websites (of the Tribune, a citizen journalism site supported by the Tribune, and the local Indymedia site), and is interested here especially on whether such sites promote or prevent social fragmentation.

Network Politics, Political Networks

The first full day at ISEA 2008 starts with a number of parallel paper sessions - and the first paper in one of these sessions is mine (that is, the paper I've co-authored with Jason Wilson, Barry Saunders, Tim Highfield, Lars Kirchhoff, and Thomas Nicolai). I've posted the slides below, and will try to record the audio as well the audio is up now, too.

The next paper is by Atteqa Malik, who begins with a political rock video from Pakistan that has now been parodied by the Pakistani lawyers' movement (replacing rock musicians with lawyers, etc.). That movement, and other online and offline protests, is in response to the takeover of mainstream Pakistani media during the Musharraf regime, of course - indeed, there has been an explosion of media channels in Pakistan in recent years. One further catalyst for such developments was the 2005 earthquake, which created a strong response from younger generations.

Media Responses to Convergence Culture

The next plenary session at the CCi conference responds to Mark Deuze's talk - John-Paul Marin from SBS and Tony Walker (blogger at ABC Digital Futures and the ABC's Manager of Digital Radio) will share their own experiences of operating in the new, user-led, media environment that Mark has sketched out.

Building New Media Organisations

The third and last day of the CCi conference starts with a keynote by the fabulous Mark Deuze, author of Media Work. He begins by pointing to Henry Jenkins's work on convergence culture, and reminds us of the magnitude of that trend. Why is this happening, what is the context for this - how do media professionals work in this environment?

Media organisations are very well positioned to make sense of this from a production perspective - they are well placed to find new ways to tell stories across multiple (new) platforms, but in doing so reproduce mainly what they did before. We need to move forward beyond this approach, though: how do we start from scratch in developing new content forms and forms of participation which are native to the new (media) environment, characterised as it is by niche communities and diverse interests? (Mark's upcoming book Beyond Journalism tells this story for the journalistic environment.)

Thinking through Citizen Journalism

The post-lunch session at the CCi conference starts for me with a panel on citizen journalism which involves my colleague Jason Wilson from Youdecide2007 (and, Larvatus Prodeo's Mark Bahnisch, and Graham Young from Online Opinion. Their theme is the role of citizen journalism in the 2007 Australian federal election.


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