Pappas Promotes Citizen Journalism

Station group launches


(click thumbnail)When a local Nebraska high school announced it would distribute a new laptop to each of its students this fall, a citizen journalist tapped into the Community Correspondent Web site to share the news-and a photo-with fellow Nebraskans. The segment then made its way onto the local evening news that very night.
Pappas Telecasting has taken the concept of community journalism to a new level with the launch of its online initiative.

The program, which debuted at Nebraska Television in June, is designed to put the power of the media in the hands of the citizens of Nebraska.


The program allows any local individual to load images or post a news story to the Web site. These aren't the typical newsroom editor-approved stories seen on the evening news. The Community Correspondent site allows users themselves determine what is news by automatically publishing content from cell phones, e-mail and the Web site.

"With a click of a cell phone camera and by hitting the 'send' button, any user can instantly relay news to the site, thereby determining in that moment what is news," said Rosemary Danon, vice president of online and new media for Pappas Telecasting and a project leader withCommunity

There's a deep breadth of knowledge about a community, say developers of Community Correspondent, which can only come from the community itself. Even with a larger staff and unlimited resources, there's still no way a typical local newscast can adequately report on all the small out-of-the-way events going on in a local community. However, Pappas believes the citizen journalist initiative like can do just that.

"When given the chance to create a grass roots news site, the community will have its own one-of-a-kind voice-and it won't necessarily be the same kind of information traditional broadcasters would choose," said Desiree Hill, vice president of news development at Pappas Telecasting and project leader with Community Correspondent.

At NTV, that voice is replete with surprisingly well-shot photographs-from summer sunsets and fireworks displays-as well as short but clear snippets of local information, such as the news that local church members were about to board a van to Baton Rouge, La., to help care for children displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

According to Hill, Pappas Telecasting initially targeted the Nebraska market because the NTV community of viewers had previously been active in sending weather photographs and other information to the station Web site.

"People in central Nebraska have shown they are eager to participate in the creation of news," Hill said, and NTV is welcoming them with open arms.

Viewers themselves can capture breaking news when conventional news crews cannot get to the scene in time, and Community Correspondents hopes to take advantage of this technology trend.

"Local expertise is better than national expertise," Danon said. "Sometimes, an image from a cell phone is the only way of getting material" about an event, she said, such as the notorious footage taken from video-enabled cell phones during the London subway bombings in 2005.

Contributors' stories are being published simultaneously on the home page and in one of the following subject categories: news, weather, community, sports, fun and a category known as "Our Troops." The site also archives material each day, creating a day-in-the-life of the community as it happens.

"It's a lot of fun to get things from the far ends of our viewing area that we don't get to travel to on a regular basis," said Sara Linner, executive producer of new media at NTV. "This way we can still report on what they're doing, and they get the chance to be a reporter as well."

In the month since its debut, the Web site has 300 registered users and has had more than 22,000 page views. Traffic has grown from 2,000 page views the first week to 11,000 in the third week.

Pappas plans to roll out Community Correspondent at all of its 27 stations over the next several months, beginning with KMPH-TV Channel 26 in Fresno, Calif.

During staff briefings at Pappas stations, the network has seen-perhaps surprisingly-a healthy amount of support for the citizen journalist initiative from traditional broadcasters themselves. After all, Hill said, the media is known to be a bit of a snobbish bunch when it comes to handing editorial decisions over to the general public.

Yet more and more stations are seeing the benefit of a program such as this one, particularly the industry's younger staff members who are well versed with the power of sites like YouTube and MySpace. "After all," said Danon, "who are we to say what's newsworthy?"

"Every community is so different, and what unfolds in San Francisco may be very different that what happens in Baton Rouge," Hill said. "As we unfold Community Correspondent in each community, the flavors of America will come out."

Susan Ashworth

Susan Ashworth is the former editor of TV Technology. In addition to her work covering the broadcast television industry, she has served as editor of two housing finance magazines and written about topics as varied as education, radio, chess, music and sports. Outside of her life as a writer, she recently served as president of a local nonprofit organization supporting girls in baseball.