Sunday, May 4, 2008

Citizen Journalism: All The News That's Fit To Blog

Amidst a professional culture that shapes midtown Manhattan, the mass media industry dominates. Residing within the hovering skyscrapers are some of the nation's most renowned publishers of traditional print journalism; companies such as The New York Times, Hearst, Condé Nast, and TIME Inc have become widely known American media conglomerates. Consequent to recent innovations in Internet technology, a public that was previously dependant on professionaljournalists for news coverage has now taken the role of the reporter in contemporary online media. "Being able to see this as the advent of true democracy in what had been a media oligarchy makes it much easier to argue that Internet journalism has already achieved great things," says the dean of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, Nicholas Lemann, in a recent New Yorker article titled "Amateur House: Journalism Without Journalists." This branch of press coverage known as citizen journalism utilizes the Internet to create a more accessible form of reporting and consequently places the future of traditional print journalism in question.

In following the course of American media set by radio and television broadcasting, citizen journalism poses the newest threat to traditional news coverage. As modernization continues to foreshadow the future of mass media, recent advances inInternet based technology have contributed to the increasing relevance of online journalism. "Societies create structures of authority for producing and distributing knowledge, information, and opinion. These structures are always waxing and waning, depending not only on the invention of new means of communication but also on political, cultural, and economic developments," says Mr. Lemann in his New Yorker article. As traditional publications are tested against the evil forces of blogging, they demonstrate a staying power where citizen journalism is greatly lacking. Mainly rooted in their practices of original reporting, printed news coverage maintains qualities of objectivity and media ethic which the Society of Professional Journalists give voice to in its Code of Ethics:

The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility.

Traditional organizations greatly depend on the dedication of full-time reporters to fulfill these basic expectations. Although Americans once valued the credibility of professional journalism, it seems their standards have permitted a lesser quality of ethics in order to satisfy a more citizen based etiquette.

Infringing on a realm of professionalism, citizen journalists express opinion but often lack the skills necessary for providing credible news coverage. In taking an alternate form of dissemination, online journalism has consequently become means of unconventional reporting and, for this reason, is often a source of concern for traditional journalists. Citizen journalists often work full-time jobs and contribute to as a hobby yet are expected to deliver news as a professional organization would. In fact, it is work done by professionals that online publications depend on for original reporting and becomes a basis for commentary and opinion. While the Internet overtakes printed news coverage, it is consequently aiding in the demise of a media that greatly supports it. As discussed by Times technology reporter John Markoff in an interview with Online Journalism Review, "I certainly can see that scenario, where all these new technologies may only be good enough to destroy all the old standards but not create something better to replace them…" As citizen journalism poses a huge threat to traditional print media, it reveals the potential to eliminate not only itself, but the American media industry.

Citizen journalism provides for public control over the media through blogs, online publications, and other Internet resources. In a society that greatly values personal expression, the majority opinion can be greatly credited for shaping its every aspect. As demonstrated by popular trends in American culture discussed by op-ed columnist Roger Cohen in his article titled "Is There Wisdom in Crowds?", "Zagat has proved a global winner, as has American Idol. We live in an age when people love to know what everyone else thinks and the means exist to convey those thoughts instantaneously online." As a public forum for news coverage, there is no definite line between fact and opinion.

Upon my exposure to this world of journalism where sites such as promise "Every Citizen is a Reporter," I couldn't help but wonder if I could be one too. 500 words later I found that yes, even I could be a citizen journalist. After about a dozen e-mails confirming my (free) registration to citizen journalism sites such as,, and, I copy, pasted, and clicked the submit button. While some posted my article immediately, others took a few days to 'edit' it and then post. It was not long, however, before searching each site prompted my article and I officially declared myself a citizen journalist. My experience as a citizen journalist has confirmed that in fact "Every Citizen is a Reporter"; and while they really mean every citizen, one can't help but wonder whose work they'll be reading next.

"This is not about replacing the professionals. This is about complementing them, improving their work with additional questions and facts, doing the things they can’t do because there are not enough of them," says journalist Jeff Jarvis in his blog In consideration of the great lengths citizen journalism has come thus far, the potential of new media is undoubtedly there, "But none of that yet rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media—to function as a replacement rather than an addendum," says Mr. Lemann. With a revised approach, perhaps new media will demonstrate the ability to coexist alongside its predecessor (and not destroy it.)As traditional publications survived the emergence of news radio and television broadcasting, we have reason to believe it will again take this path.

No comments: