Care Urged as CNN Expands its Use of Citizen Journalists

CNN is expanding its use of citizen journalists.

The new collaboration – Open Stories – was announced at the annual South by Southwest this month and has been used for CNN’s coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

It is hoped that Open Stories will create multifaceted reports about a single story with contributors posting videos, photos, updates and comments.

I am excited to watch professional journalist as they become more accepting of citizen reports, but I’m also a little bit concerned about what CNN accepts in the way of contributors’ comments.

I urge CNN to refrain from including opinions from every Tom, Dick and Harry. I encourage them to make sure that the comments that are included are actual reports of news from people who are watching news as it is happening.

Then, there’s the issue of pay. Some practicing citizen journalists think CNN should pay citizens for their reporting.

In the case of Open Stories, I think many of these citizens will be what we refer to at the National Association of Citizen Journalists as accidental journalists. They just happen to be on the scene of a news event and have a recording or video device handy to cover what is happening.

Logistically, how do you pay what could be hundreds of journalists who may contribute a fact or two, or a video scene or two? People just don’t pay for eyewitness accounts, which is what is often provided by accidental citizen journalists.

I feel differently about working citizen journalists, however. If they work hard at their craft and go out of their way to be on the scene of a news event and produce quality, reliable reports that news entities are unable or unwilling to cover, they should be paid.

Nevertheless, the CNN project advances the concept of citizens reporting news. As this concept evolves, especially in the United States, I hope the pay will somehow follow.

Susan Cormier is the head coach in charge of training at the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” (

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About The Author

NACJ trainer

Susan Carson Cormier is a co-founder of the National Association of Citizen Journalists and co-author of the "Handbook for Citizen Journalists." As the head coach at the NACJ, Cormier is in charge of training citizen journalists the basics in how to report and write news, sports and feature stories.

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04 2011

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