What’s in a name? Renaming citizen journalism

28/07/2009

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Debate: is citizen journalism properly named?

Morning, bloggers.

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.

Yours,

The GFM Team


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