Will Citizen Journalism Work?

October 14, 2008

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?


Has Online News Reporting Replaced Newspapers?

October 14, 2008

Remember the days of walking down the stairs in the morning to see your Mum or Dad sat at the kitchen table with a newspaper in front of them as they ate their breakfast?

We might do, but it is highly unlikely that our children will.

They are more likely going to see us sat at the table with our laptops, using RSS feeds to get news coming directly to us.

Online news reporting was once just a supplement to the television broadcasts or the daily newspaper, but it has now become a major player in journalism because more and more people have turned to the internet to get their daily fix of news.

Both the number of newspaper readers and the number of viewer figures for the news are slowly slipping away due to online editions.

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/6220424.stm The internet was only invented in 1969 but just forty years later it is creating a storm in the journalism industry. Once, the internet simply acted as a supplement to newspapers, it is now a primary source for information, which gives a clear indication of just how much the media environment has changed, since newspapers once held a monopoly on news.

As trainee journalists, we are in a time of major change and it is very exciting to be a part of it.

Why do I think more and more people are using the internet instead of buying a newspaper each day? A key reason is that it is time efficient. Instead of walking down to the corner shop and taking twenty minutes out of your day to buy a paper, world news is sitting at home at the click of a mouse.

The internet is easy to use, fast and convenient. By submitting news online, it means that people are able to access information and news from any part of the world. Someone living in Swindon has access to just that one local paper, but with the aid of the internet, a Swindon local is able to research local news for all parts of the UK (or the whole world!). Videos are also becoming important, with videos being published on websites as an aid to a news story. Journalists are no longer the first to file and are not always the first eye witnesses.

For example during the 7/7 London bombings it was ordinary people with mobile phones who first captured the moment. This is another component of what is fast becoming a multimedia industry.

Blogging is also ending the monopoly of comment which newspapers previously held.

Comment is now much freer. Why spend 60 pence on just one opinion when you can get an unlimited range for free?

Newspapers no longer have a unique selling point, and bloggers are able to grab editors by the throat and tell them that they are wrong in what they have said. Online reporting has often provided breaking news, such as the Clinton/Monica affair.

By reading news online, people can filter what they are interested in and so just receive the news which is of relevance to them.

Yes, it is dangerous because it may cause them to be shut off from the rest of the world, but some will no doubt see this as a positive.

Jonathan Klein once said that, “Blogs have no checks and balances. It’s a guy sitting in his living room in his pyjamas.”

Yet the internet is giving people like that the opportunity to voice opinions which would have remained unheard if news remained strictly on paper or television. We are now in an age where news is available through the internet, webcast, podcasts, blogs and 24-hour news channels, and print journalists need to start facing these facts, if they haven’t already.

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September 24, 2008

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