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I'm an assistant professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, where I teach and research how news sites can better reach their audiences. I received my Ph.D. from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri where I was one of the founding editors of MyMissourian.com, a citizen journalism site for Columbia, Mo. Before graduate school, I worked as a community newspaper editor in Southern Utah and Southern California.

Practice what you preach: Yahoo! News helps improve citizen journalism

Chris Barr, the senior editorial director of Yahoo! News, visited our news writing classes at Ohio University on Tuesday and gave our students valuable advice about how to publish on the Web. I shot a series of short videos of his lecture that I almost trashed when I learned the school’s director interviewed Barr with the school’s more sophisticated rig. Instead, however, I threw together the basic video you see below because I realize I need to practice what I preach. I need to keep trying the video editing techniques I share with students.

As I was cobbling the best quotes from Barr’s nearly hour-long presentation, I also realized that Yahoo! News was also putting its money where its mouth is. I believe Barr when he says the goal behind the Yahoo! Style Guide is to improve Web content across the board because everyone will benefit. I’ve been critical of Yahoo! News before on this blog, especially when I had a hard time finding some of the great original content they created in the past. It’s only fair that I take the time to highlight some of what they are now doing to democratize and curate news.

Yahoo! recently purchased Associated Content, a site that has been lumped in with other content farms, such as Demand Media’s eHow. I’ve read a lot about how eHow is only trying to dupe the search engines. For example, check out the Daily Finance’s funny list of some of the dumbest advice eHow has published. Before talking to Barr, I had a similar opinion of Associated Content.

But as Yahoo! has expanded their original news offerings once again, I think they’ve set new standards for citizen journalism. The Style Guide is a first step. Sure the guide has a lot on SEO, but Barr repeated over and over again to students that no one should write for the search engines. I agree. It leads to the kind of articles Slate’s Farjad Manjoo describes. Barr also assured us that all members of the Yahoo! Contributor Network work with editors.

The movement to improve user-generated content online has to start somewhere. I’m glad to see it may be starting with a pioneering Internet company, who has a decent track record for contributing more than just news aggregation. So far, I’m pleased with what I’ve seen. I really like The Upshot, a blog on the main site that provides a different and balanced perspective on the news. I’m also encouraged by what I’ve seen on the Yahoo! Contributor Network so far. Today’s top story on how Christa McAuliffe’s hometown is remembering the anniversary of her death. It’s hard to believe it has been 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing McAuliffe, the first teacher astronaut, and six other crew members. I found the reflections of people who knew her moving. Some of the other articles show promise as citizen journalism as well. They offer a more personal approach to the day’s news, which is often missing in mainstream media coverage.

This is not to say the site is perfect or that some of the contributions don’t need major editing. But it does bear watching how Yahoo! will work with citizen journalists. At this early stage, it seems to me Yahoo! is embracing one of the findings of my dissertation – working with your audience to craft the news without stealing the audience’s voice can enhance connection and credibility.

PhotoCredit: Chris Barr speaks to students in J231A: News Writing at Ohio University on Jan. 25.

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3 Responses to “Practice what you preach: Yahoo! News helps improve citizen journalism”

  1. We agree with you that user generated content needs improvement. That’s why we formed the National Association of Citizen Journalists. Our members receive quality training.

    We would like you to review our well-received 250 page book, “Handbook for Citizen Journalists.” It’s the only book we can find that is written FOR aspiring and active citizen journalists. We would be willing to send you a free e-copy if you’ll review it.

    February 2, 2011 at 6:35 pm
  2. Hans #

    Thanks for the heads up, Ron. I’ll have to check your book out. I visited your site as well, and I like what I see. Have you reached 1 million citizen journalists? Keep up the good work.

    February 2, 2011 at 8:00 pm

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  1. Tweets that mention Chris Barr, Yahoo! News work to set new Web content standards | Give the 'Net credit -- Topsy.com - January 28, 2011

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by scrippsjschool, Hans K. Meyer. Hans K. Meyer said: Can @yahoo improve citizen journalism? What do you think? Read my thoughts here http://t.co/46sF8LG […]

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