Recently Kellie O’Sullivan, a third-year communication student studying at the University of Newcastle in Australia, asked me some questions about citizen journalism for a class assignment. I get questions like this a lot, so she said it was fine if I answered her in a blog post.
The way she framed her questions made me wonder: Why are folks from news organizations and journalism/communication schools still so hung up on building fences to divide amateur from professional journalism? Does this reflect insecurity about their own status/worth, or simply a lack of understanding of how much these endeavors mostly overlap and complement each other?
Seems to me that we’d all gain more by focusing on the practice of reporting and journalism (especially being transparent and open to discussion, correction, and expansion of news and information). In my opinion, doing journalism is more important than what kind of journalist you consider yourself to be, or how others label you.
With that caveat, here’s what she asked, and how I answered…
1. Do you think that citizen journalists such as Matt Drudge and Perez Hilton put pressure on professional journalists to be more accurate and credible in their reporting?
I don’t follow either Matt Drudge or Perez Hilton, so I can’t really speak to those two examples from experience. And I don’t know that I would call them “citizen journalists” — as far as I know, they’re both entrepreneurial news/information providers, not unpaid amateurs.
I also know they’re both very popular and have developed large, devoted communities online. From what I hear, they interact with their community members regularly and personally. That probably contributes to their popularity.
Reporters who are inclined toward viewing other media players who become popular in the communities that they would like to reach — and who are inclined toward a scarcity mindset of community (“If you get more attention, that means I’ll get less!”) — may indeed view Drudge and Hilton primarily as competition and feel pressure from that.
Personally, I think it’s more constructive to view nearly anyone else in media as a potential ally or collaborator, and look for ways to approach them and their communities that will benefit everyone.
Also, watch what they do and learn from them. If you want the results they get, then look for constructive ways to emulate or adapt how they work.
2. Daily blogger and citizen journalist Matthew Hatton thinks that citizen journalism and professional journalism could work together. Do you believe this is something which could happen?
I not only think this kind of cooperation could happen — it should and does happen, every day, in all kinds of venues.
Sometimes it happens through controlled, hierarchical programs like American Public Media’s Public Insight Network. Sometimes it’s formal or informal crowdsourcing. Sometimes it happens through blogs, or comments to news stories, or social media. It’s more about sharing information than sharing bylines.
3. In 2007 you wrote: “In journalism, the ‘ism’ is more important than the ‘ist.’ ” Therefore, do you believe the general public are simply more interested in news stories, and not necessarily the author of the stories?
Not quite. In my experience people are interested in news, information, perspectives, and context — and most of all, relevance. I also think many people (perhaps most) prefer to choose their own sources for these things, not just blindly turn to a mainstream news outlet as the last or best word on anything. And I also find that the kind of information people want is much broader than traditional packaged “news stories.”
This is why most people rely heavily on people they know and trust to find news and information — both original information and pointers to news and information published online and elsewhere. That’s a big reason why social media has become so popular.
People do care about where and who their information comes from. Who authored or published a news story can be part of that, but it’s definitely not the whole picture.
This is why the traditional practice of mainstream professional journalists hiding their personal views, opinions, or interests can actually undermine credibility, not promote it. Transparency has become more desirable and useful than a veneer of objectivity fostered by concealment.
4. Do you consider yourself a citizen journalist or a professional journalist? Why?
Neither. Both. It doesn’t matter to me. It may matter to other people, but that’s up to them and they’re free to label me and my work as they will.
I do journalism, among many other things. That’s how I think of it. That makes it much easier to get the job done.
Thanks for your questions, Kellie