Posts tagged with: citizen journalism

It is our pleasure to welcome guest ramblings on the PowerBlog, and we are happy to feature this contribution from Jonathan Petersen, former Sr. Dir. of Corporate & Internet Communications at Zondervan. His 22 years at the international book and Bible publisher included directing public relations, corporate communications, and marketing strategy for general retail stores, direct mail, and the Internet. Prior to Zondervan, he was founding religion news editor and anchor for United Press International Radio Network. A member of the Online News Association, he can be reached at www.JonathanPetersen.com.

Who knew back in 1969 when ARPANET was created by the military as the precursor to the Internet to decentralize communication in the event of war on domestic soil, that it would eventually lead to revolutionizing and toppling entire societal institutions and upending business models that withstood onslaughts for 100 years? Among the hardest hit are traditional print- and broadcast-centric media. They’re now having to reinvent themselves or risk collapse in light of the ever advancing digital tsunami. Bob Garfield of Advertising Age cogently summarizes the current media scenario in his article “Apocalypse Now” (warning: strong language).

The stunning effects on journalism can be traced to 1997 when RSS debuted and 1998 when blogs entered the Web fray, allowing anyone to publish and syndicate any content they wanted for everyone to read anywhere. In 1999, the same year citizen journalism was taking root online, the book The Cluetrain Manifesto succinctly observed, “A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.” How true.

For more than a century, journalism operated the same way: a news event occurred, an “official” reporter wrote about it, an editor reshaped it, a headline writer contributed to it, a designer/producer fit the story into a prefabricated and limiting format, and it was all distributed to consumers at a predetermined time for consumption the way the “professionals” proscribed. Today, in only 10 years, that model has been ripped apart: anyone can now manufacture and globally distribute news and we can select what news we want to read however and whenever we want to read it. This is good if you believe in freedom of speech. But it’s not so good if you demand consistently high editorial standards and desire quality reporting. Since the editorial filter is non-existent in citizen journalism, every reader must exercise discernment to know what to accept as fact and what to jettison as fiction.

Print newspapers are closing their doors for lack of sustainability and seasoned reporters are being forced to ply their trade in new digital ways. With all that journalistic professionalism unleashed, coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit, perhaps “citizen journalism” will become more institutionalized in its own way in the age of new media.

An excellent talk by from the Media Research Center, “Understanding and Critiquing Old Media,” opened today’s afternoon session at Austin’s Right Online summit. The speakers clarified some basics about journalism, such as the fact that typically reporters don’t write their own headlines (copy editors do) or that there is an unofficial reporter’s code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists.

A good deal of the talk revolved around consistent forms of bias found in the media, most of which are monitored closely by MRC’s watchblog NewsBusters. An archetypal form of bias by ignorance that exists in the media, often manifesting itself in bias by labeling, has to do with the mainstream coverage of religion.

The signature authority on this form of media bias is GetReligion, whose name is taken from William Schneider’s observation that the press “just doesn’t get religion.” A great example is the most recent GR post on the media’s constant politicization of statements from the pope and other Vatican officials, a theme we’ve long covered in this venue.

These sorts of online outlets represent a huge shift in the conversation about media. The word can now get out if there are errors, intentional or otherwise, in media coverage. Quotes taken out of context can be shown in their original form. Letters to the editor can be posted online whether or not the original source chooses to acknowledge them. New media is an important form of “citizen” journalism.

One question I have is whether or not citizen journalists should recognize and respect the “off the record” phenomenon that is a hallmark of professional journalism. If nothing is ever off the record now, I think there’s a dangerous possibility that such a reality will impoverish public discourse and create an environment of cynicism and opposition. There’s a reason that ability to speak “off the record” arose in the fourth estate and I don’t think we should simply cast it off as an antiquated relic without serious reflection.

One of the other key differences between old and new media is the form that authority, influence, and celebrity take in the latter. See, for instance, New York mag’s “The Microfame Game” and Vanity Fair‘s Blogopticon.