Is Anyone Out There? Assessing Swedish citizen-generated community journalism
The notion of a media revolution is suggestive of a situation where an old, tired and dysfunctional power is about to be replaced by one that is new, alternative and vibrant. The old power-traditional journalism-is often criticised for being unable to provide a fair image of a global and heterogeneous society and for depending too much on advertising and societal elites/majorities, which creates a distance between journalists and ordinary citizens (Atton and Hamilton 2008; Downing 2003; Xiaoge 2009). In response to this, a number of different forms of journalism, such as public, participatory, advocacy, development and citizen journalism, have been advanced and promoted as new powers to afford better alternatives. Regarding citizen journalism, there has been plenty of theorising and enthusiasm about citizens stepping up and providing coverage of their own (Bruns 2008; Jenkins 2006; Gillmor 2004). Such notions are especially attractive at a time when traditional journalism seems to be withdrawing from the western public sphere (Friedland 2010; Lowrey, Brozana, and Mackay 2011). In the case of Sweden, a democratic corporatist media system model encompassing both a strong public service broadcasting media as well as a commercialised press with high readership (Hallin and Mancini 2004), the biggest newspapers have decreased roughly 25 percent in printed circulation and 20 percent in staff during the last seven years (Svensk Dagspress 2012a, 2012b). Hence, there seems to be a golden opportunity to unleash the full potential of a citizen-driven news coverage to fill this void. At a national level, there are a couple of examples of successful attempts (newsmill.se, sourze.se) to create journalistic forums online where citizens are given both a platform to publish and an actual opportunity to reach an audience (Holt and Karlsson 2011). However, the consequences of traditional media’s decline-in terms of citizens filling the void-is perhaps most interesting to study on the community level, since local and community newspapers with smaller circles of readers are facing
challenges that call for a more acute discussion about possible alternatives to traditional news service than do media with a national reach. A recent study of American citizen journalism on the local level suggests that existing citizen journalism sites “are imperfect substitutes at best for most newspapers when it comes to local government coverage” (Fico et al. 2013). While Fico et al. focus on cities in the United States of between 1 and 400,000 citizens, our study is performed in Sweden where there are very few cities of that size. Our study thus presents results from a largely rural area, where traditional media’s position historically has been strong. Therefore, in light of the fact that many local newssources are struggling, it is of special interest to study the occurrence of citizen journalism alternatives (Lewis, Kaufhold, and Lasorsa 2009).