Will Citizen Journalism Work?

The concept of citizen journalism sounds great doesn’t it? People with no journalism skills are able to play an active role in reporting and publishing the news, all in the name of our great democratic society.

For its 2006 Person of the Year, Time magazine chose “you, the public – for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game.”

Call me a cynic or a traditionalist but whatever happened to the good old fashioned method of journalism; reporting left to the professionals? That way the consumers are assured of a factual and structured piece of journalism. Surely only trained journalists have a grasp of the precision and ethics which are involved in reporting news?

I’m in no way accusing the public of being mindless. Yet in this complex and uncertain transition to a new multimedia phase in journalism, it does not surprise me that professional journalists are intolerant of this new medium.

Does anyone remember Taylor Hicks winning American Idol? Whereas 63 million votes were cast on the night that Hicks won, only 54.5 million Americans voted in 1984 when Ronald Reagan won the presidential race. And this was the most votes ever recorded in a Presidential election.

Facts like these which make me wary of trusting the public to report hard news. Some people have their sense of important news all wrong.

I agree that citizen journalism provides an outlet for people to get their voice heard when it would otherwise remain silent. The disenfranchised and minorities are included here. It provides people with alternative views and opinions and makes news a two-way operation where the public is able to respond to what they read.

What concerns me is the inaccuracy and unreliability which hides behind a citizen report. With no skills, no necessary training, and no experience, what they report is more akin to chitchat than journalism. There is no accountability and no editor to validate the story. Isn’t this opening up a world of deception? .

I’m a big supporter of democracy. Yet I’d much rather read an article by someone with the necessary training and experience, giving me the confidence that what I am reading is hard fact. Reporting hard news is not a place where amateurs belong, it is an arena for those who have worked hard to give themselves the title of a journalist.

Yet citizen journalism is not simply a phase; it is here to stay and professional journalists need to accept it and find the best of way of working with it. I understand that even professionals can get it wrong, i.e. Jason Blair! . Maybe an ideal solution would be to get these citizen journalists and professional journalists to work together to correct each other’s stories?


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