Guillaume Champeau, UK executive for AgoraVox
On a mission to champion the best European citizen journalism
With an English-language version in the pipeline and traffic increasing by 40 per cent every month, the project's founders have ambitious plans to raise the credibility of citizen journalism as a complement to the mainstream press. And it appears to be working - Yahoo! News is already listing AgoraVox news alongside Reuters and AFP reports.
UK executive Guillame Champeau talks to journalism.co.uk.
How advanced do you think the citizen journalism movement is in France, compared to the rest of Europe and the world? France has a reputation as being quite advanced with blogging, so is citizen reporting something that most people welcome, or is there more of a sense that the traditional media is more trustworthy?
That's an excellent question. The numbers speak for themselves: as of June 2005 there were about 6 million blogs in Europe, with 3 million of them being French! The highest blogging population behind France was the Polish (1,300,000), and there were only 900,000 British bloggers at that time.
As you certainly know writing is very important in France, and the French have a long tradition of debating and expressing themselves. When blogs appeared on the web, it became a huge social phenomenon with mainstream media, including major newspapers such as Le Monde or Liberation, covering blogs in their papers.
During the European Constitution debate, some of the most influential people against the treaty were bloggers, and star bloggers even featured on popular TV shows. Local and national politicians started blogs, as well as many company executives.
Contrary to what happened in other countries, newspapers in France seem to have adopted blogs as partners fairly easily. The online edition of Le Monde created its own blogs section, and Liberation regularly features blogs in their papers. And bloggers often rely on information provided by traditional newspapers to open discussions with their own information or viewpoint.
It is very complementary, and we hope the AgoraVox initiative will help raise the level of confidence in citizen journalism to that of traditional newspapers.
Why is citizen journalism important? What does AgoraVox do differently to other citizen journalism sites?
For decades, readers have only been given the chance to read articles from a narrow selection of newspapers. These newspapers have limited content because they are restricted in the number of pages they print everyday, and in the number of professional writers they hire. Most of them are not neutral in their coverage but follow a certain political bias, and none of them have the ability to be everywhere all the time.
When taken individually, citizen blogs are no different from these newspapers. But taken collectively they create a unique collective intelligence.
Bloggers from all around the world can report on events they personally witness. They can take pictures or movies with their mobile phones and post them on the web as soon as they are taken. No newspaper in the world has this ability to have correspondents everywhere.
When they write stories on the web, citizens don't merely provide information as newspapers do - they primarily initiate discussions. People react to these discussions with their own analysis, influenced by their own culture. Citizen journalism is a popular medium. It's created by the people for the people.
But citizen journalism has its own problems. There are tremendous amounts of information to sort, unsupported personal opinions to discard, false reports to identify, etc.
When we started AgoraVox, we kept those problems in mind. We continually take advantage of the expertise of Cybion, our parent company, in monitoring web information to determine the most accurate sources, to check the information submitted by registered writers and to ensure that stories published on AgoraVox are not libellous. In order to do this properly, we use editors to check each story before publication.
Do you see citizen journalism as a challenge or a complement to traditional media? How will traditional media need to change to adapt to the new two-way news environment?
Let's be honest. You cannot expect individual bloggers to accomplish the same job that professional reporters do for newspapers. Writing articulate articles requires skills, knowledge and experience that most citizen journalists don't have. Some bloggers may have some of these qualities, but most don't.
Bloggers have different qualities: they are better at providing local news, at analysing facts on original angles and at providing readership with a certain kind of expertise. As Dan Gillmor said, when you write a piece on the internet, you know that some readers will have a better understanding of the topic than you do. Readers have the ability to complement or correct your story with their own expertise - and that makes blogging a rich and enlightening experience.
Newspapers - which have been used to seeing themselves as 'the people who know', writing to the ignorant - now have to face this reality that makes them ignorant.
But they still have this unique expertise in providing people with the background they need to understand what bloggers are talking about. Professional writers provide the keys to read blogs better, and bloggers rely on newspapers to tell their interpretation of stories.
Papers tell the story, and bloggers discuss it. Blogs and papers perfectly complement each other.
What has been your biggest achievement with the site? What else do you hope to achieve?
We are very proud that AgoraVox already has 1,000 registered citizen writers, including some very influential bloggers.
As a result last week AgoraVox was chosen by Yahoo! as one of its primary news sources. To date their French portal only features the stories of a very small amount of websites, and we're proud that AgoraVox is now one of them. It's recognition not only for AgoraVox, but for citizen journalism as a whole. Our reporters' stories are featured at the same level as the AFP or Reuters pieces and it's a major achievement.
We intend to extend the AgoraVox success in various languages to reach as much cultures as possible.
So what are the secrets of making a successful citizen journalism site?
We wish we knew that!
We believe the best way of becoming successful is to do a good job finding and keeping the best writers, respect everyone's opinion and check that each information published is accurate.
But ultimately success will be determined by our readers.
More news from journalism.co.uk:
Pete Clifton, head of BBC News Interactive
Alistair Brown, general manager at Scotsman.com
David Dunkley Gyimah, senior lecturer in digital journalism at the University of Westminster
Peter Bale, online editorial director of Times Online
Richard Burton, web editor of Telegraph.co.uk
Alisa Bowen, head of Reuters.co.uk
Tom Regan, executive director of the Online News Association
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