"Is citizen journalism going too far...?"

Citizen journalism already has a strong foothold in societies around the world, from Korean sites such as OhmyNews to the British ScribbleSheet. But in Japan, apart from the hugely popular blogspheres and SNS sites, user generated content has not enjoyed the same prestige that is has in other nations.

However, this is slowly changing and evolving. Tsukasa Net News (Tsukasa net shimbun in Japanese), an online user generated news site, have even gone so far as to pay people to upload articles. Done via a points system, for every 1 point, 1 yen is awarded and for the average article, if they are chosen to go on the website, 100 points (and therefore 100 yen) is given. This may not sound a lot, but the site claims that whilst some writers receive 10,000 a month, some can receive up to 100,000. Bonus points are given for top ranking articles, with the ranking system consisting of stars awarded plus the number of hits to decipher how much money should be paid for that article.

The site openly states that its motive is to utilize articles with user opinions and although it is called a “newspaper,” there is no reason to think of it so formally. It asks the journalists to have a blog sense when writing on incidents, news, accidents and other things that may be on your mind. It allows writers to deviate from specific genres, and articles range from personal quandaries to the international economy (although they do then list genres in which the site’s owners are looking for articles, such as sports, entertainment, science etc.)

All very good in theory, but with so many blogs, bulletin boards, forums and so on, saturating the user-generated content market in Japan, how much weight can be given to a “news” site that features opinion pieces intertwined with facts?

Quite a lot, apparently. Yahoo! Japan and Livedoor both bring up Tsukasa news results in their news search section. And incredibly, searching for e.g. the ‘Tibet problem’ in Yahoo! news brings up a Tsukasa news article as the top news story. Although there is a small sign at the top that says “public news,” apart from that, it looks just like an established news article.

The article is well written and is emulates a news piece—but opinions are still freely given without evidence or expert views to back it up. All very interesting, but can you really trust it as a news source? And more importantly, why does Yahoo!?

Citizen journalism can be effective in a lot of cases, revealing inside information that the mainstream media cannot always achieve. And there is no doubt that the mainstream can include too many opinions or sometimes even lack judgment when it is called for. But the problem with Yahoo! and Livedoor’s use of Tsukasa News as “mainstream” news (which it neither is nor aims to be), means that people could be unaware that writers’ biases are openly encouraged to be included, and that these writers and Tsukasa news are unlikely to be held to account for any complaints of “poor journalism.” Theoretically, “news” posts on the site could be 100% fiction. Or may be it’s not so different from certain “real” newspapers after all…..

Tsukasa Shimbun: http://www.222.co.jp/netnews/

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