I’d like to add to the conclusions I made last week at the end of my Minneapolis Bridge Collapse & Citizen Journalism post.
I’m beginning to wonder if the explosion of citizen journalism produced by Minneapolitans in the aftermath of the collapse was atypical. I wonder if Minnesota and Minneapolis merely enjoy certain traditions, characteristics and capabilities that, combined, create an ideal environment for citizen journalism to thrive.
I mentioned some of them in my previous post, but I didn’t tie them together. Let me try.
The social scientist Robert Putnam once observed that if Minnesota has a problem, there’s likely a group of Minnesotans who have spontaneously gathered together to try and solve it. We have a high degree of social capital and a genuine sense of civic duty. That tradition helps make such activities as citizen journalism seem natural to us.
We also have a high technology tradition. From Engineering Research Associates to Seymour Cray, the “father of supercomputing,” and Control Data Corporation to the Gopher protocol to the birth of electronic democracy, Minnesota has been on the leading edge of technological innovation.
As Pioneer Press technology reporter Julio Ojeda-Zapata points out, Minneapolis’ municipal wifi had recently been rolled out and actually played a crucial role in the emergency personnel’s ability to respond to the crisis.
With broadband wireless access across most of the city, the prime technological component was in place for immediate, on-the-scene citizen reporting.
Minnesota has a long tradition of supporting the arts, so it is no surprise that the state in general enjoys a large artistic community, and Minneapolis has a particularly thriving arts scene. The community, therefore, has an abundant pool of creative talent from which to draw.
Those talents–writing, photographic and videographic, specifically–lend themselves perfectly to journalistic pursuits.
Perhaps because of our harsh winters, Minnesotans have learned the value of helping one another out. If your car stalls on a long stretch of road in January with mercury at ten below and the wind chill making it even more brutal, that approaching car could be literally the difference between life and death. Knowing this, Minnesotans are more likely than not to lend a helping hand.
That attitude is required for the collaborative journalism on display at the MNSpeak thread about the bridge collapse.
Is the explosion of citizen media resulting from the 35W bridge collapse a confluence of factors unique to Minnesota or can we expect to see the same variety, quality, and volume of content elsewhere?
Only time will tell.
Mobile, Broadband, RSS & High Definition
Several trends bode well for citizen journalism:
- Mobile devices will eventually come standard with wifi Internet capability;
- Municipalities will discover that citywide wifi access is an economic imperative;
- Partly as a result, broadband adoption will approach ubiquity;
- With falling prices, HDTV technology will be widely adopted, both in the form of television and video cameras;
- Broadband Internet access will become standard on televisions;
- RSS will become a standard information distribution technology;
- And RSS readers will be standard on televisions.
Combine all these trends and suddenly you have the ability for one citizen with a blog and a high-def video camera to be an on-the-scene reporter who can upload her video footage to her blog right from the scene and through the magic of RSS, stream the report directly to the televisions of her subscribers.
Aggregators & Editors
The problem with citizen journalism is that much of it is spread over disparate sources; blog posts here, Flickr and YouTube uploads there, and microblog posts over here.
In a disasters such as the Minneapolis bridge collapse, finding all these citizen reports is problematic absent a system that aggregates and consolidates them. You either have to already know about a particular source of citizen media, or you need to know where to look and how discover such sources.
Currently, there is not one central source you can go to consume citizen media. We need an infrastructure that formally aggregates such sources with a function–perhaps a digg-like feature–that would bring the quality content to the fore.