Gigaverse Can Help Citizen Journalists Evolve Into ‘Real’ Journalists

Gigaverse1We are going to begin having Q&As with people who have interesting things to say about journalism. Our first conversation is with Simone Collins, the founder of Gigaverse.

1. What is Gigaverse?
Gigaverse exists to help people pursue alternative careers, which are a (surprisingly) big deal. Though society and higher educational institutions alike direct us toward traditional positions at established organizations, over a fifth of U.S. workers already work outside the bounds of traditional, full-time employment. Younger generations seem even more interested in breaking from the old employment model — 27 percent of millennials are self-employed, and one-half to two-thirds of the lot are interested in entrepreneurship.

To help people embark on alternative careers of their own, we offer free courses for pursuing freelance careers and building home-based businesses. Our courses’ lessons show people the practical elements of pursuits like blogging, freelance writing and design, social media and community management, and authorship.

2. How is Gigaverse different from other MOOCs?
We see three big problems with MOOCs: They’re too academic, they’re not optimized for online learning, and they don’t show people how to build careers.

Though popular and well-built, MOOCs like Coursera present traditional college classes, which often emphasize abstract concepts and fundamental principles over immediately applicable professional skills.

Many major MOOCs also make the mistake of attempting to replicate the traditional college class experience (that is, sitting in a classroom, watching a lecture) rather than build an educational experience that optimizes the online format. When presented with streaming videos, many people automatically begin to multitask — checking their email, poking around other websites, leafing through Facebook, etc. It is simply too easy to get distracted while watching video content online.

We find engaging sites like Codecademy, which teach people through interactive exercises, and Wikipedia, which offer modularized, text-based articles that are easy to skip around and inherently rewarding (“Oh! Just finished another section! Yeah!”) to be far more effective.

For this reason, we love what MOOCs like Codecademy are doing. Codecademy is optimized for the web, and it teaches practical skills that people can use to get hired. But even Codecademy falls short on one front: It doesn’t show you how to actually build a career as a programmer.

This is where Gigaverse comes in. We utilize web-friendly, interlinked, Wikipedia-like articles to show people how to leverage their existing skills to build supplementary income and establish independent careers. Our courses touch on practical issues like building a client base, setting prices, and selecting platforms. We research best practices and interview successful professionals from each field we cover to determine what tactics and approaches actually work. What’s more, we regularly update our courses as optimal tactics evolve and new resources emerge.

3. What type of journalism classes does Gigaverse offer?
Gigaverse offers a generalized course on online journalism. It touches on major issues journalists should consider when developing careers in the digital age — be they students in traditional journalism schools or passionate amateurs with a hunger for the truth and a desire to report it.

The course’s 10 lessons present a broad overview of the industry, key platforms, tools, and resources online journalists frequently use, best practices, mistakes to avoid, important legal considerations, and tips on building a full-time career as a journalist. Journalists we interviewed for the course include bestselling author and editor-at-large for Esquire AJ Jacobs, award-winning author and reporter Jonathan Alter, the ever-entrepreneurial tech journalist David Cohn, and Robin Hilton of NPR’s All Songs Considered.

4. How do you see citizen journalism fitting into the future of journalism?
Citizen journalism adds fresh importance to professional journalism. Rather than replace the role of the journalist (as some have feared), citizen journalists make professional journalists more necessary than ever. We need professionals who know how to verify claims and reports, provide unbiased information, and offer analysis of the massive and raw volumes of citizen journalism that exist online.

I wish I could say that citizen journalism will democratize the world of news, making it possible for anyone to have a voice, but I’m afraid this is not (and may never be) the case. Whether or not a story is heard depends entirely on popularity and branding. If a citizen journalist reporting on am important issue is not (1) found, (2) acknowledged, and (3) promoted by an influential party (be it a popular figure, Internet celebrity, major news organization, or influential journalist), he or she will not be heard.

Though the growth of citizen journalism doesn’t guarantee that important stories will be heard, it has made it possible for more stories than ever to be heard. It is up to skilled journalists and news organizations to find those stories and get them out there.

5. What will the journalism industry look like in five years?
From what I’ve heard from journalists, the journalism industry in five years will be much like it is today. However, there will be more cross-platform integration (i.e., news organizations will have more nuanced Twitter and Facebook presences and their websites will be better optimized for mobile devices), we’ll see more visual content (animated GIFs, short video clips, etc.), and most viewers will still flock to big brands (be they brands with an established, old-school history or new media brands that have risen in prominence) — mostly because there is an overwhelming number of news sources online, and it’s easiest to stick with a trusted, well-known establishment.

Hard-hitting journalism will be increasingly limited to expensive trade journals, as it’s getting harder and harder to fund original research and reporting. Journalists who are good at analyzing raw numerical data will have a leg up in the industry. Those who do best with “soft” subjects like human interest stories must have incredibly refined understandings of viral content.

6. Do you think media organizations will pay for content created by citizen journalists? Why?
No, I don’t think media organizations will pay for content created by citizen journalists. First, too many people are giving away content for free to justify paying a significant amount of money for it. Second, citizen journalism is expensive and risky to use. Citizen journalism requires significant resources — it takes a lot of work to find good content, vet sources, and verify information.

There will certainly be cases in which citizen journalism is paid for. For example, we’ve just seen an example of skydivers being paid for exclusive interviews and content of/about two planes colliding midair. But those cases will be the exception, not the rule.

Nevertheless, more citizen journalists are beginning to evolve into “real” journalists (something our course is designed to help people do). Once they start getting paid as freelancers and hired by news organizations, I suppose you might say that more citizen journalists are being paid for their content. But at that point, they can hardly be called citizen journalists anymore.

7. In five years, where would you like Gigaverse to be?
We’d like Gigaverse to be the central nexus for learning about and pursuing alternative careers. In addition to discovering everything you’d want to know about interesting independent career paths you might take, we also want to provide you with the tools you need to launch your career.

We’re therefore in the midst of researching and developing tools and services that would enable us to act as office managers and agents on behalf of independent professionals — in an efficient manner and at a very low cost. It might be an ambitious goal, but we’re extremely passionate about the alternative career space.

We dream of a world in which it is just as easy to work independently as it is to work for an established organization. If we can move society even a bit closer to this reality, we’ll consider our time, effort, and investment well spent.

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