A typical day with my friends would no doubt have this sentence embedded into our conversations, “You know, I was reading so-and-so’s blog the other day and I found out that…”, followed by some juicy details or gossip. One time, after one of these said sessions occurred, I asked my friend, “Have you wondered, before blogs and friendster came into our lives, where the heck did we get all our information from?” My friend could not even come up with an answer to satisfy us both.
I am still wondering about that, but right now I realize something else. We get much more information from these blogs than merely trivial gossips. One of the more important ones is news. In Singapore, blogs like Mr Wang Says So, The Yawning Bread or Singaboodypore, just to name a few, are what a lot of Singaporeans read on a daily basis for a different perspective from the mainstream media. It has gotten so widespread to turn to blogs for news that it not a secret that media companies are feeling the pinch by the loss of readership to these blogs. There is even a term to describe this phenomena, and it is now, familiarly called, citizen journalism.
According to Wikipedia, citizen journalism also known as “participatory journalism,” is the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information” (Citizen Journalism, 2007). With the start of citizen journalism, news companies, corporations and politicians have a new challenge ahead of them. Instead of just the journalists dealing with news and the news being generally controlled by the people who owns that particular type of media, the public now holds a huge chunk of control. According to Gillmor (2004), these bodies have a few things to consider in this new era. Firstly, outsiders can probe into newsmakers’ businesses and affairs and can disseminate them more widely and quickly, Secondly, information no longer leaks. Instead, it rushes through barriers via instant messaging, e-mail phonecalls and in my opinion, blogs. Thirdly, Gillmor also said that what gushes forth can take a live on its own, even if its not true.
One of the problems that arises from citizen journalism is the question of honesty. It not uncommon to see bloggers making stuff up to rile the public, editing photos using the technology of Photoshop and now, it is also not a surprise to learn that people could edit video as well. There is no efficient way to stop people from spreading false stories. The only barrier that they can come across is running the risk of defaming someone and other legal complications. Readers then should be aware that when they read blogs for news, it may not be completely true. Even though that it is true that journalists could also stretch the truth sometimes, they face a much bigger risk than these bloggers.
However, it is also possible to put the best of both worlds together. OhMyNews, which is wildly successful in Korea, is a good example. The journalists from OhMyNews are citizens and most of them are housewives writing the news in the comfort of their own homes. Unlike most bloggers who have no ethical conduct to follow to, OhMyNews has a code of ethics to adhere. This include that the “citizen reporter must work in the spirit that “all citizens are reporters,” and plainly identify himself as a citizen reporter while covering stories”, that “the citizen reporter does not spread false information” and that “the citizen reporter does not use abusive, vulgar, or otherwise offensive language constituting a personal attack” (OhMyNews, 2007).
OhMyNews’ popularity by the public did not go unnoticed. Realizing that the public prefers blogs and want to have their say in news contents, the Singapore Straits Times created STOMP (Straits Times Online Mobile Print) in order to get the public more involved with the news. Straits Times Editor Han Fook Kwang said, “In the new media environment, newspapers have to be more than just passive providers of news. They have to engage their readers in areas which appeal to them. We have to provide readers with new avenues to express themselves, to enable them to interact with us, and among themselves” (STOMP, 2007).
True to what Mr Han said, STOMP does provide the public with “avenues to express themselves”. There are a few categories that readers could go to for some news and interaction. The main category, Singapore Seen, is basically where the readers could send in their news via sms, mms or e-mail. Chosen news would be published on the website and other readers could comment on the said news. Aside from Singapore Seen, STOMP also has Talkback, which is a forum where readers could start a topic, discuss, give opinions or even just to “hang around” the website. STOMP also has categories such as STOMP e-bay, ST Foodies Club, ST Digital Club and the Courthouse, just to name a few. These categories are generally self-explained.
On the whole, I think that STOMP has done a good job in achieving its goals or trying to get the public involved and becoming more interactive with the media. The flexibility of using mms, sms or e-mail allows the public to send in stories on the go, enabling them to use current technologies to capture the news. Other than that, it provides a great way for the readers to interact with each other based on their interests and other miscellaneous stuff.
However, despite their successes, there are still a few things that STOMP could improve on. Aside from the fact that readers could not comment anything on the politics of Singapore (which would not be feasible based on it being Singapore), STOMP could let users send in news that they wrote on other important issues. Comparing STOMP with OnMyNews, I see a huge difference. Whereas STOMP has news sent in by the public such as “J-Pop Babes Walking Down the Street”, “Shark Attack in Sentosa: Not True”, or “Workers, Please Wear Your Safety Helmets”, OhMyNews covered stories such as “Taliban -Style Raids Launched in Islamabad”, “Indonesia Citizen Journalism on the Rise”, or “Ending the Arab-Israeli Conflict”. I believe that Singaporeans are intellectual enough to send in stories of such importance instead of trivial stories that STOMP has been publishing all these while.
Other than that, STOMP could also let the public have more control of the news that they would like to view, instead of having the editors pick and choose everything for them. This would give the public an even bigger sense of ownership and accomplishment towards their citizen journalism. Furthermore, categories such as Courthouse, ST Digital and ST Foodies Club could do with more entries by the public. It is true that they have some of these categories in the forums, but by having the public write in the above-mentioned categories, it will lend more importance to the information that they provide, and thus creating a better gift economy. I believe that with these improvements in place, STOMP could be as successful as OhMyNews.
Citizen Journalism (2007). Retrieved March 31 2007 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_journalism
Gillmore, Dan (2004). We the Media. Retrieved March 31 2007 from http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/wemedia/book/
OhMyNews International (2007). FAQ. Retrieved 31 March 2007 from http://english.ohmynews.com/reporter_room/qa_board/qaboard_list.asp?page=1&board=freeboard
STOMP (2007). About Us. Retrieved 31 March 2007 from http://www.stomp.com.sg/about/about.html