Videoblogging, Citizen Journalism, and Credibility

Today, I wanted to show off the latest in the series of short documentaries on media production which we are producing through Project nml, a project funded by the MacArthur Foundation to foster new media literacies. Regular readers of this blog will recall that we are producing a series of short digital documentaries on various aspects of the new media landscape — ranging from independent comics to graffiti – which are designed to get students to reflect more deeply about their own potential roles as media makers and to think about the place of media in their own lives. We have been delighted so far by reports that these videos are starting to be used in schools around the country and we would like to encourage other educators to send us reports of how you might be making use of these materials.

Our latest release deals with the growing phenomenon of video-blogging (and as such, compliments the segments we produced last year in which Boing Boing’s Cory Doctorow offered his advice to would-be bloggers.) The video was produced under the supervision of research manager Margaret Weigel and our recently hired production coordinator Anna Van Someren (who came to us from the Boston Based Youth Voice Collaborative); the primary author of the video was one of the CMS graduate students, Steve Schultze, who was also not coincidentally one of the key organizers of last week’s Beyond Broadcast event. Among those featured on this video are Steve Garfield, who has been widely credited as the father of the videoblogging movement; John Barth from Public Radio Exchange; Ravi Jain, another former student of mine who has gone on to fame if not fortune as the host of Drive Time; Jason Crowe from Cambridge Community Television; and Susan Buice and Arin Crumley, the producers of Four Eyed Monsters.

One of the high points of the series comes in Segment 2 where we get into the issue of citizen journalism and how it relates to professional reporting:

John Barth: On the Internet, you have this great possibility to compare and contrast among a variety of vetted sources of news.

Steve Garfield: Videoblogging is news. Of course it is. The cool thing about it is that people will all be telling stories, let’s say, from an event. So something happens and you’ll get five, ten, who knows… right now if you go to an event and you have fifteen, twenty, twenty-five, a hundred bloggers blogging about an event… if you read a number of them you’ll get a good sense of what actually happened.

John Barth: So can you trust what you see in a videoblog? How do you know that that’s true or accurate?

Steve Garfield: Or if you read a blogger frequently, you know what their biases are and you know where they’re coming from. So they become a trusted source for you. With video blogging it’s the same thing. Video bloggers will become a trusted source for people of news, and if you have a number of videobloggers out covering the same event, seeing their different perspective on the same event, when you look at all those different videos then I think you’ll get the story.

John Barth: You know this whole notion of, “all of us as smarter than some of us”, is true. Except, not all of us are videoblogging and not all of us are blogging and not all of us are doing what you’re doing. So, all of us don’t have the benefit of being equal participants in trying to determine what the story is, or being able to see your videoblog and compare it against someone else’s….

John Barth: So what would be so bad if videobloggers rule and mainstream media goes away because they just can’t stay in business. Well here’s what I think would happen: right now most investigative reporting, for better or worse, is being done by mainstream media. You have really good reporters at newspapers, at major networks like ABC news, and they are really developing their sources and getting to stories that frankly I don’t think you and I could with a handheld video camera. We don’t have the time, we don’t have the money, and we don’t know where to go.

Steve Garfield: The cool thing is that videoblogging is not TV. That’s what’s so cool about it. You don’t have to have an intro, a voiceover… you don’t have to get both sides of the story. You don’t have to do anything. You can do it however you want to do it.

John Barth: Trust is what you’re trying to get to. You’re trying to get to credibility. So, if you work in a traditional news organization, there are dozens, hundreds of people and they all have points of view – they all have biases. The thing that’s supposed to weed out all of that so that all you have is accurate information and good storytelling is that you do have editors and competitors and other reporters who help frame a story and get it out there every day. If you’re a videoblogger, it’s maybe you and maybe one or two other people and that’s all. So, how do people know that what you’ve put out is accurate? How do you develop that trust? Well, there are some real basic things to understand. If you’re going to pursue certain stories, you don’t have your conclusion before you begin. That’s why you’re asking questions. So, a lot of times we get interested in a topic because we’re passionately interested in it, but you need to have enough self-control and self-discipline to distance yourself from the outcome and also what you’re hearing from different points of view….I think in terms of training people to be good videobloggers, I would argue they should spend some time with traditional journalists and get a sense about how much time it takes to beyond just putting up home movies to really tell a story well and really check some things out.


For those of you who enjoyed my post about Four Eyed Monsters last week, there’s a very good segment (Chapter Five) in which the filmmakers discuss the ways they have tapped audience participation to shape the distribution of their independent film.

Susan Brice: Making a film is a very one-directional thing because you make it and it goes out to the world and they watch it and who knows what they really think. But making the video podcast was a really dynamic part of the project because you put it up and immediately people are commenting. Some people are making video comments back. The feedback is instantaneous and it affects the next video. It affects everything really. It affects our whole process.

Throughout the film places a strong emphasis upon the communal dimensions of production and circulation in the videoblogging world, resulting in a strong explanation of the kinds of social networks that operate in the realm of participatory culture.

Steve Garfield: Big media looks at videoblogging as a way to distribute content. The cool and fun and interesting part about videoblogging is this part about community and connection and conversation.

Jason Crowe (Chapter 7) situates videoblogging within a larger history of citizen media in America:

Jason Crowe: The history of citizen media in the United States starts with Thomas Paine, and he handed out pamphlets. So, similarly, people today are able to have their own videoblog and kind-of hand out their own pamphlets. So the tradition of independent voices needing an outlet has always been there, but this is just a new way to do it….

When the telegraph was invented, people thought that with the world being totally connected via these wires, and now that people from disparate parts of the world could talk to each other, that we would create world peace. Well, similarly with the Internet connected all different cultures and people… and you can put your media out, we’ve seen people say, “Oh well this is going to revolutionize the way that people create media and distribute it.” I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think it’s a wonderful way to get your message out, but I don’t necessarily think it’s going to be the beginning of world peace.

Our hope is that this series of documentary segments will allow educators to generate valuable conversations with their students around some of the core skills we identified in our white paper for MacArthur: among them, collective intelligence, networking, and Judgment. In the coming weeks we will be rolling out the next generation of exemplar videos on topics such as “Big Games,” DJ culture, Wikipedia, Cosplay, Documentary Production, and Animation. Our team will also be showcasing this work at a range of conferences focused on education and media literacy, including at a special event we are hosting during the Media in Transition conference which our program is hosting in April.