Credit: By James Cridland on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

With the rise of so-called 'citizen journalism', a growing role for journalists is to provide their communities with the ability to tell their own story, with news hubs providing aggregation and a platform for those who have been under-reported.

Solana Larsen, managing editor of Global Voices Online and Hannah Waldram, community coordinator for news at The Guardian, provided both a global and hyperlocal perspective on how to approach community journalism at the Community Journalism Conference at Cardiff University on Wednesday (16 January).

Give people a voice

Global Voices helps to translate and publish work from bloggers and citizen journalists in parts of the world which attract little coverage in international media.

Larsen is concerned with the fact that although developed countries have a good online infrastructure, in some areas people are not so lucky. She says the site provides "local journalism for a global audience, with a focus on under-reported issues and communities.

"We will have a network of people in places where news is breaking. In that way we can help stories travel.

"These are stories that get ignored in the mainstream media. We are trying to figure out what motivates some of these people to risk their lives to get the story out there.

"There is always an overlap with activism. That kind of reporting comes from wanting to improve your own community."

Listen to them

Waldram thinks the first step for journalists is to find out what matters to your specific community, saying "it is about listening and getting personal with communities".

"If you do that you will end up with a highly engaged community that is willing to act."

She also believes you have to get highly involved with community issues and really throw yourself into the role.

"You have to give a little bit of yourself away to get something back, and if you engage in a personal way you are more likely to do that.

"By getting involved in that way you will be able to list the community members you can relate to or ask questions, and that is essential."

This raises questions over the problems which may arise when a community journalist leaves their role and the network disbands.

Waldram had first-hand experience of this. "When Guardian Cardiff closed there was an uproar because people were worried they would lose the friends and connections they had built up", she said.

"The trouble is also what happens when people leave or someone different takes over. That community knows your face. The Comment is Free arm of The Guardian hands over responsibility to different editors so people do not become too attached."

Despite working in a global network, Larsen also sees the importance of personal engagement.

"It is really crucial for us every so often to meet up with people in our communities to have a face to face.

"People have to love what they are doing and feel there is a friendship within their community. That way we all feel like we are part of each other's successes and trials.

"The value of local journalism can be very powerful. It is not all about clicks and readers but how it changes the people who participate. It serves no purpose unless people listen."

Give them the power

Once a network or community has been established and is flourishing, the journalist can take a step back and allow those people to tell their own stories. This involves giving them the skills needed to do it themselves.

Waldram sees this as the objective, hoping that "at the end you might be able to give the reins back to the users".

"We found community members who were involved from the start and were happy to take over."

"There should be a focus on empowering people who you want to get involved with your site by sharing social media skills to those who can contribute and would benefit from it."

Larsen added that giving the community a level of ownership also helps drive engagement and motivation.

"People are empowered to feel that someone is caring about what they have to say, so that is the motivation to contribute. There does have to be that incentive to keep going, and it is difficult to predict what an individual's motivation may be.

"We spend a lot of time making sure the community feels co-ownership. That way you are able to delegate and give people more power."

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