By Rosie Spinks
City on a Hill Press Reporter
Being a cournalist is a full-time job.
Just ask Graham Langdon and Daniel Wilkinson, co-founders and editors of the Santa Cruz online newspaper Cournalist.com.
The site is based on citizen journalism, the idea that any informed citizen who is engaged in the community can and should have a platform for their voice to be heard — no journalism training required. Langdon founded the site in September 2008 after moving to Santa Cruz from the East Coast, where a few citizen journalism Web sites had already cropped up. Impressed by the progressive and engaged nature of the community, Langdon encouraged Wilkinson to join him.
“If it wouldn’t work here in Santa Cruz, then it wouldn’t work anywhere,” Langdon said. “Local businesses and people here in Santa Cruz really support new and interesting things.”
The site, which is currently funded by Langdon, receives roughly 500 to 1,000 hits daily from Santa Cruz locals, students and people in surrounding areas.
While the concept of cournalism may sound suspiciously similar to the widespread use of blogging as a platform, Langdon and Wilkinson stress that there is a distinct difference. Any community member who has set up an account on Cournalist.com can submit stories, but instead of going live instantaneously like a blog, both Langdon and Wilkinson edit and fact-check the stories before they are published.
“Blogging is a public platform that people have free range over,” Langdon said. “It’s open to bias, slander, whatever. We, as editors, make sure that doesn’t happen [on our site].”
Story ideas can be as local and small-scale as a homeless man in need of a replacement for his stolen guitar, or more investigative stories such as the city’s level of preparation for a bioterrorist attack.
Despite the somewhat informal nature of cournalism — including weekly staff meetings that are open to the public and a lack of stringent deadlines — quality stories that maintain all the important facets of journalism are still the priority.
“We realize the people of Santa Cruz want a quality product, so we encourage our writers to create one and to investigate more thoroughly than they would for a blog,” Wilkinson said.
As the prominence and readership of traditional newspapers falls precipitously, Langdon and Wilkinson see cournalism as one of the many forms of media that will ultimately fill a void. However, they are not waiting for the day when trained journalists and trusted publications are no longer relevant. As students of journalism from the University of Connecticut and avid readers of myriad publications, they emphasize the irreplaceable need for professional journalism.
“We didn’t start this because we hope the New York Times is going to go away and we want to replace them,” Wilkinson said. “As newspapers are dying, we just want to make sure there are other voices out there.”
“It’s kind of a ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ situation,” Langdon said.
Because in the current model cournalists are not paid, producing trusted and quality work that takes time and training to publish can be challenging. For the future of cournalism, Langdon sees a hybrid model in which trained journalists are paid for hard-hitting investigative pieces, and unpaid cournalists write when they feel like it.
“What we’re doing is completely new,” Langdon said. “No one has figured out a successful model for this before.”
After an already positive response from the Santa Cruz community, Langdon and Wilkinson anticipate more growth as the grassroots movement of cournalism spreads. They are also seeking more writers and Web advertising from locally owned businesses. By getting more people involved and engaged in the community, Langdon and Wilkinson believe this model will result in better coverage of often-underreported stories.
“Santa Cruz Sentinel, Good Times, City on a Hill Press aren’t our competitors,” Langdon said. “Apathy is our competitor — we lose when too many people just don’t care.”
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