Photo courtesy of Alex Buhrmann, via Flickr
Regardless how you feel about the Occupy movement, this week's raid on the Occupy L.A. encampment
was remarkable for at least one reason: with the L.A.P.D's restriction on media coverage, the best news sources for updates on the standoff came from citizen journalists.
Citizen journalism is, in the simplest terms, when ordinary people act to disseminate information without the oversight of a news organization. For citizen journalists, it's a great way to do a civic service, earn a few Twitter followers, and maybe get some freelance work. For the rest of us, it's a way to stay up-to-date on just about any topic.
Read on to discover the best free tools to produce or enjoy citizen journalism.Hashtags and TweetDeckHashtags
aren't so much a standalone tool as they are a feature that has become essential to Twitter. The "hash" in hashtags refers to the hash mark, or pound sign. Placing that marker in front of a word or phrase, such as "#OccupyLA" in the case of Occupy L.A., will make an easy search term that you can use to find Twitter updates about a given topic. TweetDeck
is a free, easy-to-use Twitter client for just about every platform, be it iPhone, Android, Windows, Mac, Chrome-- you name it. TweetDeck organizes your social feeds into columns. You can have one for friends you follow on Twitter, one for Facebook status updates, another for messages or replies, etc.
The great thing about TweetDeck, though, is that you can make a column out of a search term. In TweetDeck for Chrome, for example, hit the TweetDeck button at the top and type in any search term, hit enter, and then hit the button that says "Add Column." Now, any time someone sends out a Tweet that contains that term, you'll see it in that column.
You probably see where this is going: add a column for a hashtag that's relevant, and you've just created a custom news ticker. Make as many of these as you want. Think of them like that little feed at the bottom of CNN, except something you might actually want to read.Livestream and UstreamLivestream.com
are basically the same service, but they're both so active that it helps to have them both bookmarked. These two sites are basically YouTube, but live. Navigation is roughly the same as it would be on YouTube, but the user searches for live video streams, like TV channels, instead of pre-recorded content.
When they started, Livestream and Ustream were mostly just places where teenagers could broadcast long, rambling soliloquies about their hair or their unimaginably unique taste in music. There's still a lot of that. But, if you plug in those same search terms that you used to make your hashtags, you can sometimes find live feeds that will show you the news, as it's happening, before any of the major news sources have arrived on the scene.
To use that Occupy L.A. example once again, a couple of feeds on Ustream were, for a few hours, the only way to see what was happening on the ground. These Ustream channels had another advantage over traditional media: those behind the camera could actually check the comments on the video, interact with viewers, and take suggestions about what to explore next.
Livestream and Ustream both have apps for smartphones, so you can watch anywhere, and the Ustream app even has the ability to use the smartphone's camera to broadcast a live video stream, in case you find yourself in the middle of something newsworthy.
Have your own favorite free citizen journalism tools? Please share in the comments.