Friday, October 28, 2005

Is there *any* value to "citizen journalism?"

More often than not I get asked why I'm doing a "citizen journalism" type of blog. I sometimes wonder that myself, esp. in light of this rather negative and limited-view piece on c.j. by Tom Grubisch in the On-Line Journalism Review.

My main gripe with Tom's piece is that he keeps the assessment of citizen, or, as he likes to call it grassroots journalism (thanks for adding another term to the stew, Tom.) Tom seems to believe that if it's not connected to an old media-think outlet, or under the auspices of some sanctified citizen journalism site(such as then it just ain't proper citizen journalism.

Yet I wonder if it's just Tom's limited viewpoint, or the way independent citizen journalists limit themselves. Jon Garfunkel has a great story on how citizen journalists in the Eastern part of Massachusetts dropped the ball on a story about how an evangelical christian group in California was allowed to purchase a low-wattage high school radio station in Maynard, Mass.--yet are adding ad nauseum commentary on the Judith Miller story.

Jon has a good point (Jon also talks about page format, but that's not my thing). Why cover what's already being trampled to death not only by MSM but also by big-name bloggers (yes, I'm talking Huffington and Kos here)? Why not cover this sort of stuff that's not quite re-hashing the blogerati's re-hash, and a little bit more than the latest news on the traffic light replacement on Main St? Doesn't that seems to make more sense?

Maybe I shouldn't be the one kvetching here....I certainly don't know what's going on in Chicopee any more than I what read in The Republican. But I never said that Chicopee, or even Western Mass., was my beat. I did mention the Microsoft-UMass Showcase school deal, but since I wasn't there for the announcement, didn't have much more than the local paper had to add.

So, perhaps what it comes down to is citizen journalists deciding what they want to cover, and limiting what they cover, rather than covering a broad swath o'stuff (or monkeying with the blog format to allow for lots of stories). For instance, I won't be covering anything out Boston way because, well, it doesn't really affect me the way, say a new blog search engine might (or what Search Engine Journal is saying.) Maybe I won't kvetch about Chicopee's mayor Rich Goyette (who looks younger than me--how the heck can he run a city of 56,000?) but I'll still kvetch about Dave Sifry owing me a phone call (just a friendly nudge from a nudge) because blogging's the beat I kind of enjoy.

I guess it's a matter of picking one's turf and understanding that turf. It might also depend on what impact one wants to make. Maybe grassroots journalism that looks at the ugly gnarly little roots of one's town isn't quite it, and maybe if one is just adding another twig to an already roaring fire (as in the Miller and, now, I'm sure, Scooter Libby stories) and expecting to be the Dura-Log, one might want to re-consider. A twig has as much a chance of turning into a Dura-Log as I have of metamorphosing into Arianna Huffington.

Essentially, effective (or at least not re-hash) citizen journalism can happen--depending on how the citizen journalist views oneself. And, for the critics, let's not rush the practitioners any more than we rush the medium. The medium itself is still evolving and we are still trying to understand the ways in which people communicate/socialize within it. Sure, it might give lots of old media folks the heebie-jeebies to let us be free-range thinkers out here in the Wide Open Spaces, but we have the right. and, eventually, if we're smart, our styles will evolve and we will become what we are meant to be.

After all, this is still a very, very young medium of communication. Just give it, and us, time.

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Seth Finkelstein said...

"Why cover what's already being trampled to death not only by MSM but also by big-name bloggers (yes, I'm talking Huffington and Kos here)? Why not cover this sort of stuff that's not quite re-hashing the blogerati's re-hash, ..."

Because 1) It's work and 2) NOBODY WILL HEAR!

Following the Big Heads is easy, almost by definition, they deal in popular topics and punditry about them. Doing original work is hard, and there's very little audience for it.

At this point, a Big Head usually *volunteers* somebody *else* to do unpaid work for no recognition. Because it would be so neato cool if that happened. Along with a pony.

Tish Grier said...

Seth...just love your particular brand of cynicism! But, I do have to agree with you regarding Big Head redundancy. is indeed far easier to mimic than to think independently.

But echoing what They say is no guarantee of readership either.

I often think that blogging is merely a way to have a voice of *some kind* --even if the audience is limited. I'd prefer a larger audience, but, given my style, and my lack of pop-culture pithiness, I assume I'm an acquire taste.

Tish Grier said...

hey Carlos! no shit on Goyette! wow! will check out your blog, too...