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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 June 2006, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
A citizen among journalists
News, almost without exception, is produced by trained journalists who are paid to do a job. But the rise of the "citizen journalist", aided by the camera phone and the blog, is rivalling the authority of traditional reporting. So what if the two cultures were to collide?

That's the question that citizen journalist Frankie Roberto wanted an answer to. So he has given up a week of his holiday to spend his time in the offices of the BBC News website for a unique experiment. Over to Frankie...

"Citizen journalism" is the slightly awkward term that has been applied to everything from bloggers adding their views on the news, to eyewitnesses taking and publishing photos from their mobile.

Some events have even come to rely upon this "user generated content" (another ugly term), where professional journalists and cameramen haven't been able to get to the scene fast enough. The Thames whale sighting, the Buncefield oil explosion, and last year's London bombings all had photos from passers-by being published online and in press.

FRANKIE ROBERTO
Age: 22
Job: Web developer
Sites I write for: Wikinews and FrankieRoberto.com
Blogging takes this one step further, by allowing people to publish their photography, news and opinion, while retaining complete control over the content. If you've got a story to tell, you no longer need to go to a news publisher to tell it.

The basic phenomenon of "citizen journalism" comes simply from the fact that the internet and consumer technologies lower the barriers in recording and reporting the news, allowing a wider pool of people to play a part than the traditional industry of professional journalists.

Let's not kid ourselves though, in that most of the main news we read and watch still comes from the traditional sources.

Whilst the collaboratively-written online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, may have overtaken the Encyclopedia Britannica as the first source one turns to for reference information, for news, it's still sites like BBC News website one reads first.

There are plenty of websites out there though which welcome stories submitted by ordinary citizens, providing an alternative and open source of news.

Fact finding

Wikinews is a sister site to Wikipedia, using the same collaborative "wiki" approach which allows anyone to edit (hopefully improving) anyone else's story. Indymedia has long provided coverage of grassroots politics. Even the producers of the Clooney film Good Night and Good Luck, about a McCarthy-era journalist, launched a "report it now!" campaign to encourage people to write news reports.

Underground
Citizen journalism in action - a picture from the London Tube bombings
The biggest hurdle, though, to participating in any of these projects, is time. While professional journalists are researching and writing stories all day, the rest of us have to slot it around our busy lives. And while it doesn't matter if it takes a few years to collaboratively produce a useful Wikipedia article, news needs to be timely.

This is why I've decided to give up a week's holiday to see what I can achieve as a "citizen journalist" based in the BBC website's newsroom.

I don't even aspire to be a full-time journalist, but I'm a news junkie and I hope to find out something about how the news is discovered and reported.

How do you decide which press releases are actually news stories, for instance, and which are simply PR companies trying to get some free promotion? How can you make sure your reporting is fair and objective? How can you rank stories in order of importance? Who should you get quotes and reaction from?

These are all questions that journalists have to decide on every day, I imagine, but those of us reading the news are left guessing.

Trust and relationships

Big news organisations like the BBC have a reputation built up over years. For citizen journalists and bloggers, trust is gained by building a relationship with your readers and being open and transparent about your sources and reporting.

Journalists at work
Reporters have press cards, access to the news wires and experience
But I won't just be an observer. Throughout the week, I'll be writing my own stories and publishing on the BBC website, as well as outside "open source" sites such as Wikinews.

I'll be looking at the news stories of the day, and doing my best to make sense of them. I'll be using secondary sources, drawing upon information confirmed by other news sources, and doing some of my own research, and going out and talking to people in and around London.

The BBC has offered me a desk to work from, and I'll be publishing a day-by-day diary of how the "experiment" is going. All my work will be published under a Creative Commons licence - these licences act as a form of copyright notice which allow others to freely distribute and often modify the text, in the manner of "open source" software.

I'll also be publishing my sources, so you can check what I've written and read further into the stories. I also hope to take some feedback and direction on what stories I cover, so do feel free to get in touch.

Plus, of course, you don't just have to read what I've written - you can go ahead and publish your version of the news too. After all, we can all be citizen journalists now.


Frankie's stories will be published throughout the week, in the Magazine, along with a diary of his thoughts and experiences.

If you have a story you would like Frankie to follow up, tell him using the box below.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.





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