Though the relationship between audience and journalist has changed over recent years, collaborative story-telling is still a work in progress. As Karen Owen explains, in the end, it's up to journalists to ensure the information in their stories is fair and accurate. 


By Karen Owen

Over the past few years, I’ve listened to casual conversations and organized discussions about citizen journalism.   I wondered if I, as TV journalist, was about to be replaced by anyone armed with a smartphone. That has not happened. I’m still gainfully employed, but the relationship between traditional journalists and citizens is changing.  We are now involved in more collaborative storytelling. 

Recently, I literally handed over the camera to a bunch of teenagers, with full support from my boss.  I was producing several stories on mental health issues, one of the stories focused on stress and teenagers.   I gave a handy cam to my three teenagers and asked them to interview each other and their friends about stress.  It was a relatively low-risk experiment in collaborative story telling; I did make the final decision on which clips and what b-roll would be used for the story – I remained the curator, however it was an opportunity to explore a slightly different way of telling a story.  I’m already planning to hand over the camera again, not to my kids, but another group of teenagers with a story to tell.   

In her research last year, Nicole Blanchett Neheli examined CBC and its foray into participatory journalism and found a measure of success in using citizen input during coverage of the G20 summit in Toronto and in the CBC program Connect.  Blanchett Neheli determines “by curating citizen material… mainstream networks can be more confident that content will be suitable for air.” 

There are a number of avenues individual journalists can explore as we wrestle with this concept of collaborative or participatory journalism.  As a journalist working in a local TV newsroom, I also cultivate sources, conversation, and opinions through social media.  This two-way communication helps me shape a story. For instance, one afternoon I tweeted that I was presenting a story in a couple of hours on a certain vaccine. The comments and questions on Twitter helped me determine which information to include and helped me track down new information.


Andrew Keen suggested in his 2007 book, that in today’s culture “audience and author have become one.”    I would maintain that through my perspective as a TV journalist that is not entirely the case. Certainly the audience has a myriad of ways of becoming the author – blogging, tweeting, or posting their own video to YouTube.  So like many other people I am paying attention to what citizens are saying, however I am now relinquishing control of whatI am saying on daily TV newscasts.

In spite of the ability of consumers, or viewers to offer up information with the click of a mouse, journalists still have an obligation to maintain journalistic standards.  There is research to suggest consumers/citizens continue to seek out and trust news from traditional sources 

So where do we go from here? Ultimately this collaborative storytelling is a work in progress.   This heightened awareness and responsiveness to citizens is a good thing, it helps to ensure traditional newsrooms evolve and incorporate the new media landscape and citizen involvement.  However, we are neither ready, nor willing to relinquish our role as curator, after all, at the end of the day when CTV Calgary puts a story to air, or on the website, or even via Twitter, it’s up to journalists in the newsroom to ensure the information is fair and accurate.

Collaborative approaches to storytelling can help us better reflect our community, renew respect for the viewers, and ultimately improve our stories.  We are engaging in the conversation rather than delivering one-way communication.  


Karen Owen has been working at CTV Calgary for the past twenty years, the past dozen as a health reporter.