For all the hype surrounding citizen journalism, there is little research into how much interest there is in this kind of content.
A poll on public interest in the murder trial of Robert Pickton in Canada suggests that most people still rely on the mainstream media for their news.
It found that only one out of four people in British Columbia were interested in new forms of journalism, such as blogs from citizens and sex trade workers about the trial.
Moreover, approximately 50% of British Columbians over the age of 35 were not at all interested in this type of information. Blogs and citizen journalism fared better with younger people, with 24% of 18-34 year-olds saying they were “somewhat interested”. Overall, just 3% were “very interested” in these emerging forms of journalism.
The results seem to suggest that citizen journalism sites have a long way to go before they are gain a wide audience. But it would be premature to write off blogs and other forms of new media content.
Citizen journalism is not meant to replace professional journalism, but it can offer a different perspective on the news. It is a sign of a expanding mediasphere where a greater diversity of voices can be heard.
One of the most high profile examples of this was citizen journalism site Orato. It commissioned two former Vancouver sex trade workers to cover the trial of the alleged serial killer, saying this would “give the fallen women a voice”.
During the winter semester, one of my students at the UBC J-School, Catherine Rolfsen, also kept a blog on the ethical issues surrounding the reporting of the trial.
Both these offered different perspectives on the Pickton trial. But it is unsurprising that most people still turn to their daily newspaper or TV station for coverage. These are established forms of media, which fit into established patterns of news consumption. Perhaps what is surprising is that one in four people surveyed were interested in alternative sources of information.
The poll, which was conducted by Mustel Group for the Feminist Media Project at the UBC School of Journalism, gauged public interest in the Pickton trial, which is in its sixth month after starting on January 22, 2007.