Thursday, April 16, 2009
Citizen Journalism: So Easy A Citizen Can Do It.
I am a journalism major. I've spent the last four years or so learning a trade, much like Medical students train to be doctors and English majors train to be English teachers (kidding...kinda.) And this isn't the greatest analogy in the world but imagine how journalists must feel about the concept of citizen journalism, where regular people without professional journalism training cover events for news organizations. How about citizen doctors? Again, perhaps a weak analogy.
And there's the tension: The old boys in the newspaper club are having a little trouble with the idea that just anybody can do what they do. (People who, for one thing, never had to pass the UNC J-school's notorious Spelling and Grammar exam or Media Law class.) But while the editors of a dying industry scoff, as they once did with readers' comments and blogs, popularity for the idea of citizen journalism is growing, and thus, some of those editors and news organizations are having to jump on the bandwagon. Think I-report on CNN. Even the Washington Times is moving in that direction.
So here's the question: What do you think? Would you trust any ol' dude to go to an event and then turn around and objectively and correctly tell you what happened?
Well, let's look at the Huffington Post. The site published its Citizen Journalism Publishing Standards this week, just in time for its extensive coverage of the anti-tax tea parties that swept the nation this tax day.
The standards read like an introductory lecture from one of my journalism professors.
You know, fact check, name sources, don't opinionate, use correct spelling. And actually ask questions, as in, do some reporting.
"Interviews conducted by phone or in person will be an essential part of every story," the site states. "After all, you're not writing an essay but reporting on an event."
The problem is the contradiction. These citizen journalists are being asked to do objective reporting on an event dominated by the right for a site that is considered by many in the traditional media to lean a little too hard to the left.
When Politico reported Arianna Huffington's defense of her site's citizen journalists -- “Everything we are asking citizen journalists to do is purely journalistic." -- the comments section below that article swelled in retort.
"Every Huffpo 'reporter' will say it was a bunch of right wing anarchists who don't like having a black president," one post read.
Check out the Huffington Post's Tax Day Tea Parties Page. It's hard to differentiate between the citizen stuff and the pieces they found on other sites, but buried somewhere in there is proof. Proof that citizen journalism may or may not work. And proof as to whether or not I have wasted four years and thousands of dollars to learn a trade easy enough anyone can do it.
- Alexander T.