Citizen journalism - that's the phrase we're hearing more and more these days. A number of factors are at play - the dictatorial tendencies of President Bush, the utter incompetence (or, complicity) of the mass media, corporate domination, the rise of collaborative and community-building and strengthening technologies like wikis and blogs, better and cheaper photography electronics, a more computer-literate society, and more - all of it is contributing to the rise of companies like Backfence.com.
OhMyNews has been at citizen journalism for years now, but it's mainly Korean national and international news.
IndyMedia.org has been at local and international news for years now, but the sites are horrific to look at, and information is not often easy to find, nor of any standard quality nor format (not to knock our IndyMedia peeps - thank God they exist!!!).
Craig Newmark of Craigslist has made remarks about wanting to check out citizen journalism, but it's a bit difficult to find out how he might make that happen, given the ever-growing nature of Craigslist, and Craig's seeming hands-on role in it all.
So, along comes a site promising a pretty interface, relative ease of use, pseudo-anonymity, and it's free - Backfence.com could be taking the first step towards making citizen journalism a reality for the general population. Whether it's successful or not, we love the idea - anything that empowers regular people is a great thing.
The wiki page on 'citizen journalism' also mentions NowPublic.com, and Bayosphere.com.
UPDATE: We found a blog post from some VC dude, which had a lot of good links in the comments to other community-oriented news sites - most of which are one-offs, not part of any larger corporation - which, of course, is crucial to having an effective media. We've picked out some of the better ones, here:
New Voices is an incubator for local news sites/services.
Some software people are using to create these sites are:
Some news websites that are owned in total or in part by corporations:
Thought leaders on this citizen journalism stuff apparently include Jay Rosen who said this, and Dan Gillmor, of the previously-mentioned Bayosphere.com.
UPDATE: I just want to go on record as saying that no new media organization - whether it is 'citizen journalism'-based or not, is going to be able to fundamentally change mass media news reporting in this country without taking corporate domination out of the picture. What this means is that even if a company like BackFence.com, a corporation - or, still a private company either to be bought by a corporation or to incorporate, themselves - even if BackFence.com becomes wildly successful, it will never be able to function properly (that is, be a voice for the people, and an antagonist to power) as a corporate entity if that corporate entity is controlled or dominated by just a few shareholders. I don't know how to overcome this problem, just yet, I only know that I'm highly skeptical of 'citizen journalism' overpromising. The real model I'm looking to is indymedia.org. That needed to be said. :)
UPDATE: Craig Weiler over at Bayosphere says something similar to me, about corporations - he says to be 'citizen journalism', an organization must be non-profit, plain and simple.