Debate: is citizen journalism properly named?
Today we may be whacking a stick into an already swarming beehive, but that’s exactly what we want. We want to hear what people of all sides of this issue think. We’re starting a debate today, and the subject in question is what many refer to as citizen journalism.
The tip of the iceberg: at the moment citizen journalism is – just like the technology that aids it – often changing and growing daily. But what, exactly, is the relationship between citizen journalism and its professional predecessor? Well today, we’re simply centering sights on its current name.
No, we’re not firing at citizen (though surely individual is a stronger word) as much as the use of the word journalism.
Here we go.
The tools of the trade
Journalism is a trade, therefore those that practice it are called journalists. But we don’t consider everyone who owns a screwdriver an electrician, a plumber or various other professions that use the same tool.
So in that vein, should what is currently called a citizen journalist armed with a pen, camera or audio recorder still carry the word journalist?
Hold your fire a second. There’s plenty to applaud about with citizen journalism, as it’s currently named.
Journalism veterans such as former Newsweek London branch editor Stryker McGuire point out that citizen journalism may play an important role in keeping up the spread of information while the journalism industry recooperates.
But there are still snags in the practice.
The loss of where’s, when’s, who’s and what’s
When on-the-scene videos appear on YouTube, Twitter or are sent directly in to news broadcasters, there are a lot of problems for professional journalists and audience members alike:
…where is the video from?
…when was it filmed?
…who filmed it? (And what are their credentials?)
…what is the video actually depicting? (Is it really what it claims to be?)
These things are crucial to journalism, and their lack causes serious snags in the information flow.
For example, recently Global for me’s parent Global Radio News was offered video footage from the tribal areas of Pakistan. It was claimed to be the aftermath of a recent United States drone attack in the region. But there was no method for GRN to confirm whether the footage was exactly what the submitter claimed.
So that piece of information, however legitimate it may have been, was rejected. It didn’t meet the journalism bar and therefore could not be passed on. Releasing it could have painted a false picture of the situation on the ground.
A similar problem plagued news broadcasters during the recent election protests in Iran: after professional media was clamped shut, broadcasters were left with user-uploaded videos or pictures. Unfortunately, they too could not confirm the legitimacy of the submissions.
This left both newscasters and the audience alike scratching their heads over whether the information received was accurate or not.
The bottom line
Should citizen journalists carry journalist to their name, or should the idea be renamed to witness, or contributor? In other words, is citizen journalism the the right name or term for this “non-professional” work?
How does the practice fit into today’s spread of information?
What is legitimate or non-legitimate information?
And of course, what is next for journalism?
The questions are endless.
Witnesses have always contributed to stories. Witnesses have broken stories. Bloggers are amazing at fact checking and using the Internet for do-it-yourself activism.
But there are numerous websites that claim journalism, but surely they are more amateur information exchanges or witness contribution websites?
We’re stirring the pot here until it churns up what people think.
Really, what do you think?
We want to hear your voice on this debate. Bring in the fire and brimstone if needed, it’s a touchy subject in many ways for Internet users and professional reporters alike, and also for the news consumers that follow or avoid them.
The GFM Team
E-mail your story ideas to
Join our discussions on Twitter. @GFMEditor
• Read our Global for me challenge. Make the news work for you. (PDF file, 59.2KB)
I don’t blame the individual for the practice of Citizen Journalism, I blame the employers and the advent of rolling news.
With the proliferation of mobile phone cameras it has become far easier for the ‘instant news networks’ to rely on Joe Public on the spot than getting a trained journalist out there quickly, and its that that causes objections. Whether a Print or Photo Journo, we have all gone through a long and often arduous career path, why should Joe Bloggs, with his Nokia, be labled a journalist, in any sense of the word?
Rename this practice, in a word with an ever shrinking market and Journalism jobs constantly under threat, we need not feel our profession has been farmed out to the lowest bidder.
If the best “news broadcasters” could do was “scratch their heads” after viewing the videos and photos out of Iran, then maybe their brand of “journalism” is obsolete.
Some of that footage could be a valuable tool in letting others know what is going on. It does need to be qualified since there generally aren’t professional editors involved. Traditional journalists study ethics and have hard policies about that. For instance, do we know if it’s real, staged or digitally enhanced? I’d be more comfortable with something like Eyewitness Contributor Video.
Journalism is not a profession. Journalism is a product and a series of best practices. Anyone familiar with those practices is capable of producing just as good of a product. Good-enough-to-publish journalism requires people who care about delivering the news we need to make informed decisions in our lives. Quality journalism does not necessarily require a college degree, underpaid internship experience, or 8 or more hours of any one person’s day, day after day. The branding of a larger trusted organization is certainly helpful, but there’s no reason that aura can’t be extended by certification rather than a pay check. (wo)Men will fight long and hard for a piece of colored ribbon, after all.
Within the confines of a defined arrangement between news outlets and citizens that includes a certain level of standards, protocols and processes to ensure contributions meet a basic level of ethics and responsibility, I can swallow the phrase “citizen journalists.” It presents itself as a force multiplier in many ways and introduces the need for checks and balances, but there is no reason a properly defined relationship could not yield tremendously broader and deeper coverage. Again, I feel the phrase appropriate under the auspices of an actual program (documented roles, standards, etc.)
So are there any examples of news organization certification of contributors beyond merely being willing to publish their contributions? I’ve seen some organizations hosting training sessions for citizen journalism, but never any that results in a credential.
I’m not sure of specific certifications. I do know the Oakland Press (Oakland county, Michigan: http://www.theoaklandpress.com/) has a defined approach to citizen contributors, a similar combined effort is afoot with the Macomb Daily, The Voice, The Armada Times, and the Advisor & Source Newspapers (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003997969) and annarbor.com has an entire team dedicated to community input and blog contributions.