Wednesday, March 11, 2009, 3:26 PM

Citizen journalism on the rise

The Travel Channel is descending on cities across the country to teach individuals how to produce travel videos with their own hand held cameras. Some may see this as nothing more than license to film the kids at the beach. I see it as a reason companies must make citizen journalism part of their communications strategy.

Citizen journalists are no fad. They are here to stay. MSNBC relies on them. The Oakland Press depends on them. The first wave of photos and information about the Mumbai terror attacks and the Hudson River plane landing came from citizen journalists. The breadth of their work and the scope of their impact cannot be ignored.

So what does this have to do with your company? An effective citizen journalist can present a challenge or an opportunity. A citizen could catch a controversial remark by a CEO or elected official on camera and post it on Youtube within an hour. Barack Obama learned this lesson the hard way during the 2008 campaign. On the other hand, a citizen journalist with a wide following could poke holes in a newspaper's inaccurate coverage of your company. In Seattle, citizen journalists are the new watchdogs of city council hearings.

The democratization of such technology is a good thing, and companies would be wise to consider its potential. Just remember that when you see somebody filming their family vacation this summer, his or her influence could extend far beyond the beach.

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