About Citizen Journalism

by George Miller, Publisher & co-founder of Citizens Journal, text for speaking on “Citizens Journalism” at South Bay Republican Women Federated in Torrance, CA 1-11-18.

I’m here today to talk about the growing medium of Citizen Journalism, why it’s needed, how we got started, its impact, potential and how to grow it. And we did that- you can see us on CitizensJournal.us, CitizensJournal/VC on Facebook, or @CitizensJourn on Twitter or CitizensJournal.us Headlines email.

I just LOVE the Republican Women Federated ladies! Isn’t it interesting how the LeftMedia tell us that women aren’t Republican, aren’t Conservative, hate Trump, yet some of  the biggest Conservative and Trump-oriented organizations around are populated, even started and run by women? Both new Trump-supporting Conservative organizations in my neck of the woods- Ventura County- were started by women. RWF is the largest Republican group in our Ventura County. One of the greatest California Conservatives was a woman-  Phyllis Schlafly God rest her wonderful soul!

 

So, on to Citizen Journalism ….

Are you frustrated by the inaccuracies, distortions and outright lies of the so-called “Mainstream Media” and their proven “FAKE News?” Do you marvel at their utter arrogance, sloppiness, lack of ethics & apparent collusion among themselves to bring you their alternate reality every “news cycle?” As local Simi Valley patriot/photographer Marc Langsam says, they’re “anti-semantic.”

Do you wonder why they continue to do this, how they can get away with it, even as we can now bring it all back on video and text- it never dies on the Internet- so they can be exposed as the liars they are?

But NOW we already have “alternative media” – such as Breitbart, Daily Caller, CA Political News, Conservative Treehouse, New American, and super aggregators such as the Drudge Report. We’re grateful for outlets like Fox News, but they have their own distortions, too, even if not as bad as the rest of MainStream Media.  But there’s more! ……

 

The Advent of Citizen Journalism

In recent years, increasing frustration of Citizens with the so-called 4th Estate, as well as the technology of the Internet, live streaming, cell phone technology and increasingly sophisticated members of the public, have given rise to what we call Citizen Journalism. This fits somewhere between alternative media and blogs. What we have here are members of the public taking it upon themselves to move into journalism because so many of the so-called professionals have failed us so badly. We’re just one of those organizations.

 

Advent of Our Citizens Journal- Ventura County

Back when I was still trying to reform the Republican Party, I was at a County Party meeting, known as “The Central Committee”- doesn’t that sound vaguely “Soviet”? Well, I won’t get into that, but one night, we were lamenting the simply awful, biased coverage of our candidates and policies by the Ventura County Star. For some reason, I was inspired to get up and ask the group if anyone was interested in starting our own newspaper. Of 50-60 people in the room, just three raised their hands. The rest just laughed or ignored me. I chatted with the three briefly and collected their contact information. That was sometime in 2011.

It wasn’t until later in 2012, December actually, in another organization, American Freedom Partnership, when we finally voted on project priorities. Starting a newspaper came out as Priority #1- with a unanimous vote.

It was harder than we thought. It took us six months of brainstorming, debating, research, prototyping and development to get it off the ground. We decided against doing a Conservative journal to preach to the choir and opted  instead to do more objective news, with not so objective columns and let the marketplace of ideas take its course- and readers make up their own minds. What resulted is something unique in Ventura County.

We were lucky enough to have Michael Hernandez on the team, who had actually run newsrooms and served as an editor. He taught us well, served as our founding Editor and still writes fine political and faith news. We were also blessed with a few folks with reporting or published creative writing experience. Finally, we have a few folks with solid business experience. When Mike resigned as Editor, we had local businesswoman, property rights activist and published writer Debra Tash take over as Editor, Having no special skills, I serve as Publisher. We have a talented and ultra-low profile CFO. We’re still looking for donation, advertising and circulation managers.

We finally printed our first edition on 6-21-13. Yes, I said printed- as in hard copy. We created about 1800 16 page copies- 4 pages per sheet- on 2 large page HP printers, stapled them together and gave them out to anyone who would take them

We quickly found out why newspapers are mostly going broke. It costs a fortune to layout, print and distribute them- kills lots of trees, too.  Fortunately, we had set up a bare bones, but surprisingly serviceable web site, with chewing gum, baling wire and some help from a nonprofit called History Makers. David Stewart, one of our founders and a retired systems programmer, took over the web site and all things technical.

We almost immediately dropped the print edition, because it’s way cheaper to do it online- and we had no money. We also noticed that we were selling hardly any $52 annual subscriptions. We quickly learned that people don’t want to pay for an unknown online publication. We now finance CitizensJournal.us, as we call it, solely through ads and donations, which we greatly encourage YOU to make. They were mostly our own ads and donations at first, but now we have more and more others coming in. We are volunteer-operated. Maybe someday we can change that.

We’re always looking for more Citizen Journalists, advertisers, donors and promoters for our publication.

 

Impact of Citizens Journal

We started this to have an impact on the community- to move the needle on the public’s understanding of key issues, to inform and comment on what happens. While we have our own social and political views, we want to inform our readers via objective news and well-labeled informed opinions, then let them decide for themselves what they think and how they will act. We chose our target audience of Ventura County CA, comprising about 850,000 souls.

We think that to move the needle sufficiently in our county, we need to have 30,000+ readers. We reached that point during the tragic Thomas Fire in our region when people couldn’t read enough about it, but slipped down after that to a respectable level, but well short of that interim goal.

There’s an old newspaper adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.” While we try to avoid  that, our readers vote with their feet, or keyboards, mouse clicks. Yes, they love stories on crime, disasters, children, pets, entertainment, scandals. We know this precisely because we have “analytics.”  So, those articles bring readers in and then we encourage them to read our full offering.

How to measure how we are meeting our goals? While we can measure readers, we can’t measure qualitative results well. Unfortunately it is rather anecdotal. We get solicited and unsolicited reports from friends, other readers, both positive and negative, These may be in the  form of reader comments, emails, conversations, even other publications. We are told we have made some great contributions to the understanding of some key issues. We have also been criticized for publishing opinions in opinion pieces, some not even written or agreed to by us. We have been criticized for using constitutional principles as a yardstick. Because we are significantly different from “Mainstream Media” in content and orientation, some people take offense. We lost many subscribers during the last presidential campaign. We had pro and anti-Trump and Hillary articles, but the pro-Trump articles caused the most unsubscribes. We are now back to where we were before the campaign, because our different approach also attracts some readers.

Eventually we’ll get to a more formal reader survey approach.

 

Some Operating issues

For a volunteer-operated, low budget newspaper, the biggest problems are acquiring good news content, getting volunteers and paying for, like, anything.  The next biggest problems are maintaining objectivity and quality in the news section.

We found that we can get all kinds of opinionated political and social content absolutely free  and also, thinly disguised ads and press releases are usually free. Many we can use. But, unlike MSM papers, which present such content as their own, we clearly mark the origin and classify them so that readers are alerted to potential biases.

Hard, objective news is much harder to get. We write some of our own, get some from affiliates and still more through licenses and republication permissions. It’s always hard to find objective, relatively unbiased content.

Some publications will offer some or even all of their content free, with attribution. Because we have no correspondents in Washington DC, London, or even Podunk, Ill, we avail ourselves of that.

We now have about 50 sources, including some dedicated or semi-dedicated Citizens Journal reporters, feature writers, or columnists.

Because we operate as virtual organization, out of our homes or “day job” offices, we use email, phones and the Citizen Journal “Dashboard” to communicate. Some of us have never even met each other, yet operate more cohesively than we have any right to expect.

We have a fair amount of turnover, as peoples’ situations change so that it is appropriate and possible to work with us one time and not so much when things change- jobs, marriages, moving, health, even death, tend to affect that. We tend to have older, retired people, housewives and the occasional student or person between jobs. Bloggers and writers sometimes work with us.  The problem here is that these people have different experience, skill, expectations, personality and they are nearly all volunteers. It helps if they come with a mission- but not an ax to grind. Some of you know what it is like to run a volunteer organization- like herding cats, right? :-). Some we just have to pass on and others we cling to for dear life.

Getting enough money to operate is a major constraint. With more funds, we could attract more and better reporters, syndicated content, we could market and promote to attract far more subscribers. So we just scale operations and ambitions to what we can fund and get manpower for. We took down the paywall and rely upon ads and donations, because gaining readers is more important to us than money.

We have had technical challenges with spamming and attacks on our website, which we have fought to a standstill. We have also had  a massive reader shift to mobile devices and have been forced to adapt to that with improved formatting, which also helps our Google search results. We have had to reluctantly embrace Facebook and Twitter, where we have about 11,000 “likes.”

 

What is factual, “Objective” Journalism?

This turned out to be tougher than we realized. Because everyone must have some reference points to think, to communicate, to reason.

We learned that it is not possible to be 100% unbiased when reporting facts.  For example, The Washington Times is very factual, but tends to emphasize facts which support their philosophy. Even what you choose to write can easily incorporate bias.

Our reference point for writing is the Constitution and the Bible. Some people regard that as biased. It is. But at least it is based toward the very foundation of our nation and ethos. We thought that would be a good place to start. So, many of our articles have that perspective, but some do not, as we encourage diversity in writing here.

At a minimum, if a news article shows any bias, it should carry some opposing views as well, to provide some balance.

We try to keep a firewall between the news and opinion (editorials, columns, some features) sections. We plainly mark them, unlike most MSM (MainStream Media), which hardly differentiate news from opinion anymore. Exhibit A is your own dominant local MSM paper- the LA Times. I rest my case.

 

Starting Your OWN Citizens Journal

We encourage more Citizens to start  their own publications to provide counterweights to corrupt, biased journalism. The corruption isn’t always political. It could be special interests. Newspapers are very vulnerable to pressure- social, financial, political and often conform to these, losing some of their value as a result.

You will need brave, smart, hard working, determined and dedicated people to make this work. It will take time, money and talent and may not pay off for a long time, if at all.

To go about it, in summary: 1)- recruit, form a team, 2)- agree on charter, objectives, form of organization, team assignments/responsibilities, project plan, budget/funding, 3)- determine editorial/operational policies, 4)- train people, 5)- find content sources and writers, 6)- find subscribers, 7)- Fundraise (investors, donors, advertisers), 8)- piot test, 9)- commence newsgathering, publication and other operations.

If you’re interested in more information/questions answered, or have advice/help for us, please do call.

We encourage you to check us out online and sign-up free: CitizensJournal.us on the web; CitizensJournal/VC on Facebook. [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] Subscribe free link: https://citizensjournal.us/sign-up-for-twice-weekly-headlines-in-you-inbox/

 

Q&A

 

George Miller is Publisher & Co-Founder of CitizensJournal.us and a “retired” operations management consultant residing in Oxnard


Get Citizensjournal.us Headlines free  SUBSCRIPTION. Keep us publishing – DONATE

 

One Response to About Citizen Journalism

  1. Deborah Baber-Savalla January 12, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Nicely done! I’m proud to be one of the citizens making the most of our Citizens Journal! Thanks.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *