Posted: November 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

This week we read several articles on the topic of “Citizen Journalism,” which is broadly defined as news information and articles disseminated, written, and published by people — ordinary citizens — rather than by professional journalists.

This phenomenon of Citizen Journalism is a mixed blessing.

Positive features of Citizen Journalism include the proliferation of awareness and information about current events among the general populace (that is, the people who read or listen to the reports of Citizen Journalists). This proliferation is especially important for topics that the mainstream media (MSM) chooses to ignore.

Mainstream media is undergoing steady media consolidation in this country (and around the world), which means a very small number of corporations own and control the professional, formal news broadcasts. This lack of diversity leads to corporate control of information and messaging, which is exactly what Citizen Journalism can combat.

For information about media consolidation, read this: We Own Everything (CBS, Time Warner, Clear Channel, Disney, ComCast. News Corp, Viacom)

However, Citizen Journalism has its own faults. When information flows “upward” from a citizen source, unless the person who disseminates that information performs due diligence to verify the truth and accuracy and completeness of the information, the end result is “news” that can be hogwash. Anybody can write anything on the internet and (many) people will believe it. Anybody can publish a blog or send out Tweets on Twitter; no formal Code of Ethics or professional training applies to bloggers, and no formal editing-and-vetting process is required.

According to Carolynne Burkholder, in Citizen Journalism: Blogging, academic Andrew Morozov of Washington State University wrote in a 2005 research paper that:

“bloggers may not be as accurate as mainstream journalists because of the lack of a structured verification process. This is due to ‘the absence of the traditional editing process, which is linked to the apparent inability of weblogs to maintain the same standards of truthfulness, verifiability, fairness, and completeness, as are presumably manifest in most of the traditional journalistic output.’ ”

NOTE: I could not find Morozov’s research paper online, but did find a reference to it, with an abstract, at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication website.

Writing on the PBS website, Stephen Ward also addressed the topic of media ethics in the 21st century in this opinion piece: Why We Need Radical Change for Media Ethics, Not a Return to Basics.

I find it interesting that Morozov presumes that modern journalists maintain standards of “truthfulness, verifiability, fairness, and completeness” — in our own microcosm of Greater Albuquerque, it is easy to observe “journalism” on the TV (for example, Dick Knipfing on KRQE) that is slanted, incomplete, and opinionated. In a larger arena, it is easy to see that Fox “News” consistently violates all of those standards that Morozov cites. However, non-mainstream online media can be just as guilty of partisanship, which is another way of saying “untruthful, unverifiable, unfair, and incomplete.”

I have seen Citizen Journalism in action many cases.

  • The first impact I witnessed was national, when the Occupy Wall Street movement first started up in September, 2011. I became aware of OWS through Citizen Journalism posts that appeared on my FaceBook page. OWS was active for several days before it received coverage in the mainstream media.
  • The second most impactful instance of Citizen Journalism that affected me personally — as well as the nation — was when the Trayvon Martin case hit the public consciousness. I became aware of Trayvon’s case through another FaceBook post; I signed the first petition for Justice for Trayvon, and from that point forward I became engaged with (and polarized by) the whole issue of Gun Violence and the unjust Stand Your Ground laws in the US.

Although Citizen Journalism is here to stay, and is a potent antodote to corporate censorship ala the MSM, I do not envision myself as a Citizen Journalist because I have too many other things going on in my life to commit myself to regularly researching and writing articles about current events.

These are some quotes from this week’s readings/viewings that struck me as note-worthy:

Paul Lewis at TEDx: ” … old-fashioned industry practices still apply, particularly when it comes to developing stories and safeguarding against hoaxes and misinformation.”

Sqribbler: We know now that this is not true. Just look at recent examples, like the failed CBS story about Benghazi, where the “old-fashioned safeguarding” was inadequate or non-existent.

Chris Taylor in How We Consume News Has Changed: “The internet provides a massive opportunity for us as users. In this world we have access to pretty much anything we want at a time and place that is convenient to us. The user then becomes the editor. I choose what I want to read. I choose when I want to read the story. I choose how I want to read the story.”

Sqribbler: But lest we become arrogant, we must remember that anybody can write anything, anytime, anywhere, regardless of its inherent “truthiness.”

Peter Townson in Blurring the Lines…:Online media are here to stay, but so is the practice of journalism, with the associated levels of professionalism, ethics and objectivity essential to transmitting the truth.”

Sqribbler: The challenge is for all people, Citizen Journalists and Citizen Consumers of News and Blogs, to remain diligent. Snopes.com is an important secondary resource, as are other websites like PolitiFact.com and MakeUseOf.com.

Diane Stirling in Are Bloggers Journalists?: “Yesterday’s ‘official’ editorial channels are only one part of the equation. It is to everyone’s benefit that more information is available through more diverse, “non-establishment” sources. Everyone can choose where to receive their information. However, with the proliferation of that commodity, it is also up to individuals to discern the veracity, credibility, and integrity of the “who,” “what,” and “where” of the information they consume.”

Sqribbler: I’m starting to detect a theme in all these professional writings! Are you?


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