Citizen Journalism in Grand Rapids: The Rapidian
When we launched The Rapidian, it seemed like such a new and innovative concept and now, it is part of the Grand Rapids media landscape. It is still innovative and exciting, but is now one of the more seasoned citizen journalism projects that exists in the U.S. The information here about the project is still informative and will help the reader understand why the Community Foundation took on such a project. The Rapidian Beta launched on September 15, 2009.
What’s It all About?
Check out this video interview with Alberto Ibarguen, Knight Foundation President.
This question is more complicated than it might first appear. Professional journalists are likely to define it one way and people who are citizen journalists it may be another. For the purposes of the Neighborhood News Bureau project, it is simply giving the people of Grand Rapids a voice and outlet for reporting hyper-local news.
Think of the concept this way: Traditional journalism has a group of well-trained professional reporters who either cover a beat or do general reporting. They go out into the community from the inside of a newsroom and are directed in their work by editors. Citizen journalism is outside in. It involves limitless numbers of people, some with expertise or deep interest in a subject, others with no expertise and only a reporter’s curiosity. Citizen journalists are everywhere in a community and their interests determine what stories they’ll cover. Others who have studied the subject have more sophisticated and deeper views, which are worth considering.
Who Are Citizen Journalists?
Anyone can be a citizen journalist and many people have been working toward this – maybe even unknowingly. People who blog, people who post event images on Flickr, or videos on You Tube, those who Twitter, people who take a photograph of a weather event and send it to their local TV station and people who take time to comment on news stories are all potential citizen journalists. We envision people from throughout Grand Rapids volunteering as citizen journalists. The inclusion of ordinary citizens in news reporting isn’t unusual. Citizens have been telling reporters what they’ve been seeing since the advent of news reporting itself. Classic “man on the street” interviews; along with stories about criminal and celebratory events often involve the observations of non-professional journalists. What’s different with citizen journalism is that the professional journalist is absent and the citizen reporter becomes the questioner and puts the story together. Through The Rapidian, people can write stories, take photos or make videos, or produce an audio (radio) story.
Finding a Place for Hyper-local News
For people with the urge to report news and tell stories, finding an outlet and an audience can present a challenge. While traditional media welcomes interaction in the form of comments, first-person interviews and spot new photography or video, it isn’t open to full-blown stories or news from non-staff members. As local newspapers, TV and radio stations are experiencing staff reductions, citizen news outlets are gathering momentum and helping fill in the gaps regarding local news reporting. Many progressive communities (800 and growing) across the U.S. have citizen journalism outlets. Most are web-based.
Why We're in Citizen Journalism
What happens in Grand Rapids is important to the Community Foundation.
Activities, events and the overall well-being of people here influences grantmaking and helps us guide donors in their philanthropy. Over its 86 year history the Community Foundation has addressed a wide variety of social issues: race and diversity, child abuse prevention, AIDS prevention and care, access for people with disabilities and affordable housing. The need for information in a vibrant community is just as critical as any other social issue. We believe that information sharing and community knowledge is vital to people in a democratic society.
How We Got Into It
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation approached community foundations nationally and offered a special pool of funding for community foundations support creative ways to use new media and technology to keep communities informed. Grand Rapids Community Foundation in partnership with Grand Rapids Community Media Center wrote a proposal to establish four neighborhood news bureaus in the city, the hub or website is called The Rapidian. The Community Foundation was one of 21 community foundations to receive a grant. Knight Foundation’s $128,000 grant was matched by the Community Foundation and Slemons Foundation. The original funding lasted for three years.
Learning More, Getting Involved.
This is a project the needs the involvement of many citizens from throughout Grand Rapids. If you see yourself as a citizen reporter here's how to get involved:
Join our Facebook group The Rapidian.