Orato.com turns its back on citizen journalism

Vancouver-based Orato.com used to describe itself as the “only news site in the world dedicated to First Person, citizen-authored journalism”.

Orato.com logoThe citizen journalism site is perhaps best known for assigning two former sex trade workers to cover the trial of Robert Pickton, convicted in December 2007 on six counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of six women whose remains were found on his farm.

The concept behind Orato was to allow people’s voices to emerge, with as little editorial interference as possible.

But it has now turned its back on the notion of a site filled with content from “citizen journalists”.  As part of a major editorial and design overhaul, Orato recognised that:

For the first 3 years of Orato’s existence, the previous management intentionally encouraged first-person stories rooted in an intimate and authentic perspective and deliberately offered very few editorial guidelines or oversight when it came to journalistic standards and Web 2.0 approaches to search.

Instead the focus is on “concrete and trustworthy information that is objective and under-reported”. The owner and founder of Orato, Sam Yehia, said the changes were made to “further professionalize the site, focus its newsworthy content, create and enforce a viable business model and keep pace with Web 2.0 standards”.

New editor-in-chief Joy Joy Gugeler has positioned the site as an outlet for freelance journalists seeking an additional source of income:

We will grow content and traffic to reward correspondents with both pay and profile. They post video, audio, photos and articles live; our editors review the material in 24 hours; readers learn at a glance, and our writers earn from the first ad click. We hope those in search of a value-added training will consider us a vital new client in the freelance marketplace.

This is a significant shift away from Orato’s origins as a citizen journalism website to the extent that it can no longer be considered as one.

And it does raise questions about the very viability of the phenomenon of “citizen journalism”. Similar sites have experienced problems with quality control.

There is no doubt that having more voices in the news can provide a rounder picture of the world. The problem may lie in the term “citizen journalism”.

As CEO of the participatory news network NowPublic.com, Len Brody, likes to say, “telling someone they’re going to be a citizen journalist is like telling people they’re going to be a citizen dentist.”

6 Comments

  • Joy Gugeler says:

    Orato’s articles are still rooted in intimate experience, still manifest the ways in which the news plays out in the lives of citizens, still relies on citizens to provide 95% of its content, but we reserve the right to edit these articles in exchange for professional advice, pay and publication. We haven’t turned our back on citizen journalism, we’ve reinvented it. Full post on Orato’s Speakeasy Blog .

  • Thanks for the comment, Joy. This comment on Orato’s blog written by you seems dismissive of citizen journalism websites:

    “Citizen journalism has been alive and well long before Orato and is now as plentiful as bandwidth, as are the awards these sites give each other, but the real award worth earning is readership and that’s why the new Orato will print all the news that’s fit and not all that will fit.”

    This could be read as suggesting that unedited contributions from the public have no value.

  • Jack says:

    Orato is a content mill now, and the articles are edited to the point that they lack any personality. Photos are sterile. In short, it’s a very boring online place to get pseudo information.

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