Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Journalists Debating "Citizen Journalism" is Like the Sound of One Hand Clapping

In her Everyday Ethics column, Kelly McBride at Poynter online would like us to consider the term "citizen journalist" and its uses. The problem is that McBride's post is, basically, preaching to the choir (journalists)--and the choir is responding. Has anyone ever considered that reasonable and fair debate/discussion of the term "citizen journalism" should include the citizens and journalists who claim the term as much as the journalists who dislike them?

Otherwise, it's all the sound of one hand clapping--a pointless, one-sided rant.

Now, I know that I'm capable of random acts of citizen journalism, and I even know some folks whose work can be considered good "citizen journalism." None of us take The Term lightly, and often wonder if we should use it or find some better term. But we're certainly not a bunch of Gomer Pyles with no clue on how to put a coherent thesis statement together, or can't quite figure out "who, what when, where and why," or have the brains to know the difference between a piece of p.r. and an article--as the strain of pure snobbery in many of the comments on McBride's blog appear to assert.

Most of us who tackle The Term have a passion for writing, and, yes, might even have degrees in subjects like English or political science or any other field of study that requires a lot of writing in order to complete the course requirements.

Yet there are also some journalists who blog, who either no longer work in or work on a limited basis in journalism proper and refer to themselves and their new endeavors as "citizen journalism." Where does all this debate put them? And why are their voices also absent in debates like the one on McBride's blog?

So, are the former journalists-now-citizens wrong to use the term? Are folks like me who just like to write, and write well, wrong for using the term?

Or is this all just a lot of splitting hairs because some folks who spent a lot of money on a professional school don't like being challenged one single solitary bit, even when the challenges come from within their own ranks?

Tom Simpson at Webfeed Central has this to say about the McBride post: "They (journalists) really want in on the action, but the way that they’re trying to do it is parallel with the way the RIAA is alienating its customer base, in my opinion. Disagreeing about the term used has very little effect in denying the fact that it’s happening. If you want to “toss out” the term “Citizen Journalism”, go right ahead! User generated content is becoming more and more relevant, while spoon-fed content from newspapers, radio, and television are increasingly just becoming “talking points” for the larger conversation."

Until an open debate of the term "citizen journalism" can be established between all parties that have a vested interest in The Term's use, pieces like McBride's end up as pontificating by the Powers That Be--and that, in itself, is neither fair, honest, nor ethical.

note: I am aware that the c.j. term gets discussed at press and blogging conferences. yet many people who do c.j. don't have access to these conferences because they are often far too costly for the average person to attend.



zenyenta said...

Semantics aside, I'd really like a straight answer as to why so many professonional journalists stopped practicing their trade and became a vehicle for press releases from the Bush administration. I'd like to hear from some actual journalists about it. The closest I've heard is when Andrea Mitchell (of all people) kind of did admit that the press were afraid to question after 911.

The World Wide Web was around before blogging. There were content filled websites available for perusal, but it was only when it became obvious that reporters weren't reporting that citizen journalism became such compelling reading for so many.

The MSN - yes, that's a perfectly good name for it - needs to own up to the fact that the Judith Millers are their problem, not citizen journalists.

Tish Grier said...

what you're talking about is another shade of the problem, zy. I don't think people would be so interested in exploring "citizen journalism" (for lack of a better term) if there wasn't a reason--and I think it is that the reporting was no longer compelling. Also, so many high-profile scandals got to people too. Nobody likes to hear about someone getting a Pulizer Prize and then hearing that she made the story up--or that some other priviledged priss plagarized. It's just not supposed to happen.

There is, though, a way to work *with* journalists, I think. If we respect one another, and, yes, come to some agreement on the semantics, we have a better chance of making positive changes. Water has to seek its own level, and we have to find our allies.

Ethan said...

"Semantics aside, I'd really like a straight answer as to why so many professonional journalists stopped practicing their trade and became a vehicle for press releases from the Bush administration."

Time for another blogger ethics conference!

Ok, seriously, I believe that there are two reasons: Laziness, and fear of losing access. Access is a central issue in the realm of all journalism (citizen or otherwise), and fear of losing one's press pass seems to be a driving factor in "just" reading back talking points as news. I'll stop short of "blatant partisanship" as it will be interesting to see what happens in the media once some other political party holds a majority. (Notice how I didn't default to saying "the Democrats" but that's out of scope for this comment.)

Laziness cannot be ruled out either. Talking points don't require much in the way of investigative reporting or follow-up. Thinking in terms of citizen journalism, if one chose to make their local town their "beat", how would the news be gathered and reported? Door-to-door canvassing? Or reading (and possibly regurgitating) whatever is posted to the town's web site or bulletin board?

Tish Grier said...

and if there IS another bloggers ethics conference, let's have some *real* bloggers on the panel--not celebrities who love straw-man arguments... :-)

From what I've heard *some* journalists say, there's a paternalism that hints at a fear of losing access--and that's where I think the origin of all the "the people are a bunch of Gomers" attitude comes from. To some, we, apparently, can't be trusted to formulate a proper opinion, and therefore need them. Well, we *might* need them, but not to condescend and make up our minds for us.