Newspapers broke my heart. Will citizen-journalism heal it?
by Trent Seibert
Every time I open a newspaper my heart breaks a little more.
Newspapers are on the decline. Around the country, management is putting the squeeze on newsroom budgets and cutting staff. And without resources to pay for overtime, for public records fees and for lawyers to fight government officials who refuse to hand over public records, well … the end result ain’t good.
And with massive layoffs in the newspaper industry – as well as timid leadership in many newsrooms – newspapers and the nightly news are becoming less relevant – and that there are fewer investigative reporters to serve as watchdogs for voters and taxpayers.
In Romenesko, a Poynter.org column covering the news industry, there seems to be a daily horror story about newsroom cuts and journalism layoffs.
Enter citizen journalists and bloggers.
Thank goodness for them. There is a surge from the citizen-journalists, bloggers and nontraditional news outlets in creating original content. Indeed, national blogger Talking Points Memo elbowed away competition from newspapers such as the New York Times and took home the prestigious George Polk award last year.
There are examples of vibrant blogger/citizen-journalism in Tennessee as well:
Southern Beale has done great work lately in covering the Tennessee Valley Authority coal ash waste spill. She was the first to spotlight the campaign contributions collected from coal special interests by elected leaders in the state.
Adam Kleinheider at PostPolitics has become a must-read for anyone interested in following state politics in the Volunteer State. He broke so much news during the recent election that I’m not going to even try to mention it all here.
Just today Sean Braisted got the scoop that state Sen. Andy Burke is mulling a gubernatorial run.
These are just a few examples. But I want to see more. I believe bloggers, citizen journalists and nontraditional outlets must take on the role of public watchdog as newspapers continue to decline.
That’s why a small team of journalists and I started Texas Watchdog. We’re a nonprofit online news site – one of a few dozen that have popped up across the country. We also provide investigative tools and training to bloggers, activists of any stripe and journalists at newsrooms with few resources.
The Texas Watchdog staff believes that the group’s work is one part of the solution to the decline of investigative journalism at newspapers and TV stations. We help train anyone on how to investigative government, make government agencies more transparent and to keep “city hall” honest. Some of that training includes crafting public records requests, effective interviewing, useful tools in digging into the backgrounds of those running for office, developing sources, as well as other skills.
We are thrilled to see NewsTechZilla emerge as a resource for bloggers and citizen-journalists.
Keep at it. And call us if we can help.
Trent Seibert is a former Tennessean and Channel 2 reporter. He’s now journalist and editor with Texas Watchdog, based in Houston, Texas.
- Basic Rules Of Citizen Journalism
- Better Journalism After The Death of Print
- Media Attorneys Argue About Anonymous Comments
- Who’s Watching The Watchdogs?
- Pimping NewsTechZilla