Citizen Journalism is a hot topic, and for a good reason. If the internet is going to live up to its promise of connecting people, the methods and tools for reporting on our lives have to be distributed to the people. That’s Jay Rosen of NYU’s definition of Citizen Journalism
How new and exciting is this? In many ways, it’s very old. Newspapers are called things like “Daily Mail” and “Post” because many of them devoted gobs of space to people who sent in stories from their own perspectives. Before there were professional reporters there were plenty of people who had something to share with the world along with newspapers with plenty of space to fill.
I’ve been accused of being an opponent of Citizen Journalism, and I want to put that to rest now. In fact, I’ve committed acts of CJ myself, writing for several local papers and a few online ones. I even tried for a half-time gig at one online outlet, but that didn’t work out.
I criticize CJ for one very important reason: it’s that important to me. I want it to be good enough to dominate how we receive our news and how we look at the world. I want people to be forced to learn the skills necessary to digest hundreds of independent sources and perspectives and make up their minds for themselves. How do we get there?
I think there are three very important things that CJ needs to work on right now to make it successful. This is the people based stuff that I find is often overlooked:
Ditch the Leftist Politics – Too much of what I see being called Citizen Journalism has a political agenda which is thinly disguised. There’s nothing wrong with stating one’s opinion, and I don’t think the traditional ethic of “objectivity” is all that meaningful. But CJ is interwoven with leftist politics to many people, especially in the traditional press, and that has got to cause a backlash at some point. If we can’t get the lefties to tone it down, can we at least encourage more conservatives to take part?
Quality Still Counts – It sounds elitist to talk about quality, and this is where I normally get myself into trouble. But damnitall, accuracy is important, even if people will just have to get used to a slightly less rigorous definition of it. Most important of all, however, is that good writing is still good writing. Thoughts need to be organized and writers need to Talk, not Bark
You Are Not an Authority – Many CJ sites have a newspaper kind of layout with a masthead and stories and so on. If CJ is going to be something really new it has to be based on interaction between people, and this air of authority isn’t helping that one bit. To be Citizen Journalism you have to be a Citizen first, just like everyone else who visits the webpage. You aren’t any more cool than the people who read your stuff, enjoy it and, at times, rip it to shreds – but you can grind your teeth at them if it helps.
Those are the three big mistakes that I see being made on a routine basis. More to the point, the things I hear from conferences such as Netroots Nation tell me that these issues aren’t really discussed all that much, except possibly the “air of authority” problem. That’s too bad. This, like just about any other social change, is all about people. The ability to get it up and running and work really well depends on the psychology and philosophy of ordinary people.
In a democracy, we’re all citizens. We have to keep the Citizen first in Citizen Journalism if it’s really gonna take off – and that is a good goal to have.