citizen journalism infographic

Can you make a living as a citizen journalist?

Are you looking for a way to break into journalism? Apparently many people are, because my post, How to Become a Journalist, is one of my most-read blogs. That’s interesting for a few reasons:

  1. It’s a big niche and mine is a small, hard-to-find site.
  2. I haven’t actively promoted the blog since I published it nearly a month ago.
  3. People seem to have stuck around and read the whole post even though it goes against the traditional grain. That tells me they are more interested in disseminating the truth than making money.

Granted, I tend to follow alternative news sites and journalists. Doing so tends to fortify my inherent bias. Nevertheless, statistics back me up: alternative news is seriously challenging the MSM online. For example, in 2013, RT (Russia Today) became the first news channel to reach a billion viewers on YouTube. More importantly for those of us who don’t have big budgets, many journalists are either quitting the MSM or not bothering with it at all and focusing on building their careers as online citizen journalists.

Click image to visit source

In my last post, I mentioned that James Foley briefly got a contract with Stars and Stripes before he was fired for having a small amount of marijuana. When I learned that he had written for a publication with a clear bias, I wondered whether or not he took the gig because he shared the publication’s bias or simply because it promised steady pay for 13 months. I can’t answer the question for him, but I know of a few established journalists who quit lucrative jobs and took a chance on going solo online. This is encouraging news for a few reasons:

  1. It proves there are journalists out there who value integrity over job stability
  2. Journalists looking for a way out of the mainstream media (MSM) now find opportunity online
  3. There has been a snowball effect. Journalists who want to report the facts instead of spoon-fed propaganda are being inspired by others who came before them.

It’s not just journalists with degrees or past experience in journalism who are making a living as alternative or citizen journalists, either.  Many alternative news sites have been started by non-journalist activists. As they gain a following, they expand and start finding ways to quit their day jobs and make a living online as citizen journalists. How do they do it?

Can You Make a Living as a Citizen Journalist?

citizen journalism infographicFirst of all, I don’t make a living as a citizen journalist, so don’t take any of what follows as sage advice. It’s just speculation mixed with a little wishful thinking and brainstorming. That said, here are some ideas to consider. They’re all based on the same techniques you can use to get freelance writing assignments and traffic to your website.

  1. Start a website: Choose a domain name that reflects your area of specialisation.
  2. Write: Don’t rehash information you’ve found on other alternative websites. Expand on it with original research and content. Meticulous research and original content will earn you the respect of established journalists.
  3. Use local knowledge: Wherever you live, take advantage of opportunities to use your local contacts and knowledge to cover important stories. Abby Martin got her start by covering stories in her home town of Oakland, California.
  4. Use social media: I hated social media until I started following activists’ feeds on Facebook and Twitter. Now I love it and get lots of information from “behind the lines” in places like Gaza. I also share more – both my blogs and stuff others’ post. Getting more traffic isn’t my aim, but it has been a bonus.
  5. Guest post: I don’t usually advocate guest posting for free, but it can be a way to reach a bigger audience. Don’t waste your time on small start-ups like yours, though. Choose sites that have a large following and write guest posts that offer something original and newsworthy. The good ones won’t  accept rehashes and opinion pieces unless the opinions are backed up with solid facts.
  6. Make use of citizen journalist platforms: Read on . . .

Citizen Journalist Platforms and Websites

I make a distinction between citizen journalist websites and platforms: a platform is a website that distributes or makes content available to other websites. You may not get rich, but it can give you a start and, like bidding sites for freelancers, they might be a way to learn the ropes if you’re starting from square one.

A good place to start exploring citizen journalism platforms and websites is a recent post on The Next Web (TNW), where Paul Sawers  lists 11 websites citizen journalists should know about. They’re all worth looking into, but don’t neglect some of the links readers provided in the comments section. Some of the links are just spam, but others look like they have great potential. I’m going to give NoozDesk a try first. I’ll let you know how it works, so follow my blog (see sidebar) if you’re interested in follow-up stories. And please leave your ideas in your comments. Citizen journalism should be a collaborative, cooperative venture. I’d love to hear from you.

Other references:

http://indypendent.typepad.com/academese/2006/07/actually_existi.html

http://www.hangthebankers.com/rt-becomes-first-tv-news-channel-to-hit-1-billion-views-on-youtube/

  • Lem

    I’m not exactly a citizen journalist but these tips are also great for my career as a freelance web content writer. Thanks for sharing this insightful post!

    • Rob S

      Thanks! Glad it helped.