The Citizens’ Media Association: a proposal

The Citizens’ Media Association: a proposal

: Out of the Bloggercon session on blogs as business, the clear and resounding wish of the assembled bloggers was to start a trade association that will enable business and sell the wonders of our new medium.

So here is a proposal for the Citizens’ Media Association (working title), a first step for discussion.

I was frankly surprised at the popular acclaim for the idea of such a group. I’d added it to the wiki the night before the session, thinking it would bring polite chuckles at best. But when one of the bloggers at the session said it out loud, an epidemic of head-nodding evertook the SRO crowd. To make sure it wasn’t just polite conference-think — people do lots of nodding at conferences — I had the crowd vote on what they thought was the single most important thing we needed to make blogs work as businesses. It was about even: a trade association and better stats on the size of the blogosphere (and the latter, most agreed, would be a task of the former). So a trade association it is.

Note that I’m expanding this past weblogs, for we don’t know what will develop now that the people own their own printing presses and broadcast towers. And the last thing we need is to get into a fit of exclusionary orthodoxy about what is and isn’t a weblog.

If you want a model, start with the Online Publishers Association, which sells marketers on the effectiveness and importance of quality online sites. Look also to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, which is more concerned with such matters as ad standards.

The Citizens’ Media Association

The Association will:

> Gather and disseminate statistics on the size and success of citizens’ media in terms of both audience and revenue: total audience; total traffic; audience demographics; author demographics; audience behavior online; audience buying behavior; categorization of interest areas; census of languages and national origins of sites; total projected ad revenue; total projected commerce revenue; collection of success stories.

> Set standards for the means of gathering audience, traffic, and demographic data and for advertising units and measurements.

> Protect citizens media practitioners by seeking libel and liability insurance and by seeking, through courts and lobbying, to assure that the rights of a free press extend to citizens who create media online.

> Promote the medium with advertisers, marketers, media, and newsmakers.

Membership will be open to any creators of citizens’ media online. The association will be governed by an executive committee elected by the membership.

The Association will be supported by member dues and, if possible, a foundation grant to encourage the growth of this democratizing medium.

Next step: A meeting of volunteers to establish a steering committee and set its goals for drawing up a mission statement, bylaws, and a budget.

How’s that sound?

  • http://www.truthlaidbear.com N.Z. Bear

    Jeff -
    I think this is a good and necessary idea; part of the natural evolution of weblogs and other new media. But one question comes to my mind: how, exactly, do we define “citizen’s media” to distinguish it from the rest of the media?
    This is a real issue, given that the ultimate goal of some Association members is to make money blogging. If they prove successful, do they stop being “citizen’s media” at some point because they are making a lot of money?
    I have to chew on this myself a bit; I don’t have even a suggested answer at this point. But defining clear requirements for membership seems a necessary first step for developing the Association…
    -N.Z. Bear

  • http://www.noded.com/noded jr

    That is an interesting question. It seemed so simple in the first place.
    What I’m coming up with (and it’s only preliminary) is any media where the citizen is not directly employed by a company or some other third party to produce the media.
    As as second idea an associate or sponsors membership could be available for companies that do support the goals of the group would be one way to produce income for the group.

  • michael

    Unless you plan on allowing all citizen-based media to join (i.e., zines, pirate radio, public access cable), maybe you should mention the delimiter “blog” in the text.

  • http://www.rluxemburg.com lux

    Sign me up!

  • http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/ Seth Finkelstein

    I think the acclaim (which is good) comes from a yearning to have some sort of advocate of respectability, some sort of guide and group lobbying power. Again, *if* *done* *well*, that’s quite worthwhile. Like various Small Business associations, which focusing on providing tax and legal advice to sole proprietors.
    “Here’s how to apply for press credentials. Here’s who to call for libel bluster. Here’s how to avoid libel problems in the first place.” etc.

  • Steel Magnolia

    How’s that sound?
    Sounds like traditional media to me. Like, say, majorly stultifying. “The association will be GOVERNED by an executive committee…”???!!! Sounds like yet another self-appointed group with a vested interest in commercializing the web, not “encouraging the growth of this democratizing medium.” Sounds like yet another outfit soon to be in serious need of watch-dogging. Are you out of your blogging mind?

  • http://www,thenationaldebate.com Robert Cox

    Jeff,
    I have had some experience with the development of trade associations in the financial services industry. My experience suggests that efforts should initially focus on (1) creating clear financial benefits for joining; (2) avoiding “free rider” problems. Organizations that fail to deliver along these lines up front typically struggle.
    SHOW ME THE MONEY
    The association can deliver tangible value to members through group buying – discounts on web hosting, discounts on financial services (paypal, Amazon, Commission Junction), publishing-related insurance, links/traffic, etc.
    GET OFF OF MY CLOUD
    The association need to prevent non-members from representing themselves as members and taking advantage of benefits earned by the members who organize themselves as a group.
    Bob Cox

  • http://washingbowl.com Jonathon Landell

    I think the word this hinges around would be “unincorporated”. I’m referring to the “citizens’ media” versus “traditional media” distinction… a citizen blogger is acting in an individual, unincorporated capacity. ABC News is an independent and incorporated legal entity without a “face”. The moment a blogger forms becomes “Blogger, Inc.” then he’s moved to a different arena.
    Bob’s comments are wise.
    -jonathon

  • http://www.newmediamusings.com JD Lasica

    Jeff,
    I don’t think you’ll ever find unanimity in the blogosphere on this, or on anything else, but I think your proposal is an important one, especially now that it was endorsed at BloggerCon.
    One suggested addition to your list:
    > Encourage the proliferation of citizens media by supporting the creation of new tools that foster grassroots participation in media, and by offering guidance in the use of such tools.
    I’ve got more thoughts on the subject at my blog.

  • Syl

    I agree with Steel Magnolia. Don’t call it ‘citizens media’ or ‘bloggers’, call it what it is…a subset of same.

  • Anna

    “Next step: A meeting of volunteers to establish a steering committee and set its goals for drawing up a mission statement, bylaws, and a budget.
    How’s that sound?”
    Disheartening.
    In the time-honored AOL tradition – “Me too” to Syl and Steel Magnolia.
    What Halley said a year or two back has stuck with me – “Weblogs are turning a whore back into a virgin” – kinda sounds the Bloggers Business Association is a move to reverse that trend. If you’re looking for a name for your organization, don’t take the word “citizen” – to me a citizen is someone who’s acting for the public good, not for personal profit.
    Please don’t take the words we have left.

  • sasa

    horrible.
    “Protect citizens media practitioners by seeking libel and liability insurance and by seeking, through courts and lobbying, to assure that the rights of a free press extend to citizens who create media online.”
    sure to have the opposite effect.

  • http://www.02564.net Kelly

    I was at aforementioned ‘SRO’ BloggerCon session…and am, I must admit, more interested in others’ blogs (and the economics of it, and of the Internet as a whole) than in my own blog. Anyway, during the session I scribbled down a note to myself re: the ‘better statistics’ part of the equation.
    I know nothing about the technical/programming issues involved in my suggestion (keep reading), and realize it is probably open to abuse in some form or another (what isn’t?) — but — is it feasible for each reader to give themselves a ‘cookie’ of sorts, the information therein contained given only to ‘trused’ sites (say, the sites on my blogroll), which would have demographic information on it? It could go beyond the (reasonably useless) standard age/sex, and each person could choose what he wanted to include in the ‘cookie’, such as location, interests, profession, ethnicity, education, other sites/publications read, favorite products – sort of like meta tags for yourself. It could be anonymous, so that it is not tracking YOU (Joe Internet) directly (similar to how Tivo tracks user behavior.)
    I know that I am willing to give more information about myself to sites/companies/etc. I trust and that I know I’ll have an ongoing relationship with. In fact, I like giving this info if I know it will help the person/company on the other end to serve me (and others in my peer group) better. There is so much talk about how the internet has the power to make advertising so much more relevant and so much less intrusive/annoying – and much of this relevance is based on the other ‘internet/information age promise’ of improved/useful demographics and understanding of ‘consumer’ (i hate that word) behavior/habits. It’s late and I’m not 100% certain I’ve explained my idea as eloquently as I have explained it to myself in my mind, but I hope perhaps this can at least be a starting point for discussion on how we can make real improvement on improving statistics for bloggers. I know I haven’t read of a proposal like this by anyone else, please let me know if someone else has had posted similar thoughts elsewhere.
    I do believe there is hope in the Internet, and in ‘citizens media’, for changing advertising/marketing as we know it – mass marketing is dying quickly. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out how nano-marketing is going to work! Feel free to discuss/creatively criticize here, or, I have posted this same info on my blog, if we’d like to keep it separate from the Citizen’s Media Assoc. discussion.

  • http://susanmernit.blogspot.com Susan Mernit

    Good idea.
    Another model to look at is the Independent Press Association (IPA) which has a sliding scale for membership and provides resources and support for small press media of many sizes and types, from the biggish Mother Jones to tiny zines. They also support the immigant press–especially in NY–in a major way. Benefits of membership include how to books, workshops and consulting–as well as a distribution network, a paper buying coop, a recommended vendor services list, etc.
    They are impressive–and possibly a good adjunct to the ONA model, since they represent such a wide spectrum of publishers and editors.
    Also, Jeff, I have some notes on a similar idea that some of us West Coast folks talked about back in the fall–if you are interested, I will dust them off and send them along–and if I can help in a more specific way, please let me know–this is a very good idea and worth supporting.
    Best, Susan

  • http://www.deanesmay.com Dean Esmay

    I’d volunteer to serve on a steering committee, since I think this is a fine idea.
    Everyone doesn’t have to join, of course, and if you don’t like it, don’t join it. Indeed, to be a success, you need to have membership requirements, to give tangible benefits to membership and to avoid free riders anyway. Since it’s voluntary, angry rejection of the idea is just silly.
    That said, this is going to run into problems. First problem being, those who volunteer to set it up. How do they meet? Like I said, I’d be willing to step forward to help. But: I’m in Michigan. Bloggers are all over the world. Thus the only ones who can afford to get together are those with funds. Either that or we have endless chat session debates?

  • The Monster

    Think REALTOR® here. There are real-estate agents who are not allowed to use that trademarked name, because they don’t pay the dues and abide by the rules. Establish a name that isn’t already in the public domain, trademark it, and an official logo that can only be used on member sites. (Hire a lawyer to go after any non-member who uses same.)

  • http://wolves.typepad.com/ Trudy W. Schuett

    I’m certainly willing to do my part. I’ve had an unpopular opinion of my own, from time to time. I don’t think it’s structure that should worry us, but sameness and corporate ideology dictacting what can and will be published.

  • http://blogs.rny.com/sbw/ sbw

    Jeff:
    At BloggerCon II, in the groundswell toward a blogger’s trade association, I seemed to be the lone voice wondering at the top of my voice, “Are you out of your mind?!”
    That cry of anquish was all I could offer, because I was unable, in so short a time, to distill my experience into a pithy soundbite. I have decades of media “Trade Association” experience, having served variously on boards of association at every level from local to national.
    Allow me to set aside for a moment the wonderful, important work associations I have belonged to have done — and can do. I’d like to dwell on their downside.
    Caveat: Let this not be considered as casting aspersions on any of the associations with which I have worked in the past, whose contributions are innumerable, whose insights have been valuable, whose member friendships I value, and whose work has been accomplished inspite of their structure.
    My observations of established associations:
    1. They quickly go hollow: Only a few do the work.
    2. They are expensive: Much time is spent trying to gather new, paying members to pay association costs or finding ancillary income from peripheral activities.
    3. They are lethargic: Much time is spent trying to galvanize the moribund current members who, more often than not, let others do the work. Everybody says, “Hey! I know! let’s have a parade!” … and nobody marches.
    4. They are unfocused: They are frequently unsuccessful trying to decide which are the “important issues” upon which to spend scarce association resources.
    5. They are presumptious: How do you decide who you represent? Bloggers are traditionally an independent breed. How does the association presume to lobby Congress for truth, justice and the American way when they represent a herd of cats?
    6. They are a duplication: Important associations aleady exist to assure the rights of a free press and that need and deserve our support.
    And more, I’m sure.
    But let’s look at your trial balloon for the proposed association and its goals:
    >Citizens’ Media Association
    [sbw: The title assumes to the association itself a mantle of righteousness that, in humility, feels uncomfortable in the wearing. Besides that, presumes a selectvity that it represents only individual citizens and their citizen-like purpose.]
    And on to the proposed goals:
    > Gather and disseminate statistics on the size and success of citizens’ media in terms of both audience and revenue
    [sbw: which follows on with the similar and related:
    > Set standards for the means of gathering audience, traffic, and demographic data and for advertising units and measurements.
    [sbw: The presumptious assumption is that a blog is different than other websites in terms of a browser visiting it. There is a fair amount of activity being done already to determine what statistics might be significant. What is needed is not an association to weigh in on particular stats, but rather some intellectual effort to ascertain which stats are significant. That does not take an association, it takes independent intellectual effort and shared community discussion.
    > Protect citizens media practitioners by seeking libel and liability insurance
    [sbw: There are two sides to this coin. The first needs to be directed to the blogging community and the second to potential insurance providers. The former is to train bloggers to apply sound habits to assure legal blogs. The latter, prior to providing insurance, can help us set up a free, web-based course, the successful completion of which, might result in reduced rates. We should be able to get one or more insurance providers to sponsor creating the course. It's an advertising opportunity for them. It does not take an association to do it.]
    > and by seeking, through courts and lobbying, to assure that the rights of a free press extend to citizens who create media online.
    [sbw: This is presumptious: How does the association decide who to represent? Bloggers are traditionally an independent breed. How does the association presume to lobby Congress for truth, justice and the American way when they represent a herd of cats?
       Secondly, the association would be a duplication: Important associations aleady exist to assure the rights of a free press and those associations need and deserve our support.]
    > Promote the medium with advertisers, marketers, media, and newsmakers.
    [sbw: The medium should promote itself through what it does. The strongest promotion comes from being massive and ubiquitous. The obstacle that may need to be addressed is how to provide one point of adverising access, but that is a technical problem best addressed by entrepreneurs, not an association.]
    An association is a formal entity when what the blogging community really is is an amorphous, ad hoc community that has banded together around good ideas as they are articulated and embraced. They come and go as needed. That is the strength of the blogosphere. The proposal is counter to the community that it serves, where an idea can gain strength and life as it matures and that dies out when past its prime.
    Perhaps what is needed is a virtual association, not a real one… How bloggable.