Having Druck in the class proved great fun. I appreciated him bringing to us real-world experience, a journalist’s perspective on digital, and a sense of how advertisers and audience are maturing in their approach to digital. He didn’t get a chance to show us his new baby, Mobile HometownHeadlines, so take a look. This blog is to enable content to be delivered by HH directly to handhelds and mobile devices, as he told us news was heading.
One topic he and I could have actually debated in class is this post’s title, whether citizen journalism (a.k.a., participatory journalism, distributed or distributive journalism, pro-am journalism, user-generated content) is part of the problem, for some of the reasons Druck mentioned (libel, lowest-common denominator commentary, among others), or whether, as I strongly believe, it is part of the solution. What is the problem? The consolidation of media into fewer hands, fewer voices; the rush to all things visual at the expense of attention to the linear, the logical, the textual; and the decline of original, on-the-ground, blue-collar reporting, particularly on complex process questions and issues.
I say pro-am marriages of professional journalists and regular folks with blogs, vidcams and recorders equal part of the solution because, if our book is correct when it states: “The more that citizens participate in the news, the more deeply engaged they tend to become in the democratic process,” then more people doing journalism is a good thing. Yes, there will be disasters, like Teresa Watson’s “journalism,” but on the whole, more people writing, looking, asking, reporting is a good thing, in my opinion. It’s the Long Tail applied to journalism. Yes, we will still have and need the hits (NYTimes, WashPost, CBS and CNN), but more voices is part of a solution to ever consolidating big media, a check on that vastly consolidating power
Our text this week gets at this issue, asking us how citizen journalism should be handled. I put before us three models, realizing there are far more.
First, CNN’s approach is to completely segregate the UGC (user-generated content) into a separate site with little to tether it to the CNN newsroom.
Another model is OhMyNews, probably the world’s largest pro-am news site, with tens of thousands of paid “citizen” reporters. This model layers on top of and around the UGC the discipline of verification via professional journalists — editors who read, fact-check, filter and publish.
Finally, there are a growing population of sites entirely devoted to citizen journalism. New West Network in Montana is one of my favorites, collecting contributions from its “citizens” in several cities and towns. Every day, the site features a new contributed photo (you’ll see it in the middle of the home page; this site’s photography is awesome). Another, newer example of this last category: Rafter Jump On, for reporting on culture.
(A disclaimer: I abhor the term “citizen journalism” for two reasons. First, journalists are citizens, too. The term implies two false categories of journalists — citizens and non-citizen professionals. Second, the term implies that non-citizens, folks like my wife, a green card holder from Japan, are excluded. Of course that’s ridiculous.)
- Which model holds the most promise?
- Of the typology on pages 155-58, which ones make the most sense?
- How are these models supposed to make money?
- How do we ensure that they achieve the purpose of journalism, which, according to the book (p. 152), is “to enable citizens to have the information needed to more fully participate in society and to be free and self-governing”?
- A delicious question introduced at the chapter’s beginning: Do we need some sort of prescriptive rhetoric for reporters who blog? In other words, for journalists trained to be objective, at least in process, do they need a new rhetoric that accounts for, that accommodates and utilizes the interpersonal dimension of blogging, of online communication? I love this question, and I’m interested in your reactions.