Monday, May 9, 2011

The citizen journalism debate continues

I thought this article was interesting. Rather, I should say I thought this blogpost was interesting, which I think it ironic considering we've been discussing the importance/integrity of blogs versus mainstream news articles.
But this blog debates the criteria of what a "citizen journalist" is an surrounding the recent events with Osama Bin Laden's death and the "breaking news" coming from Twitter users, I thought it was a good idea to read how other accountable journalists feel about the issue.

..How do you define a citizen journalist?

Posted by Federica Cherubini on May 6, 2011 at 3:28 PM

As already noted, the news of Osama Bin Laden's death, which has filled newspapers pages and monopolized every news stream, first spread onTwitter. Not only the first credible feedback came from a tweet by Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but also the first feedback of any kind came from an IT consultant who lives close to Abbottabad, where the raid took place, and who live-tweeted the attack, even without knowing it.

Some then praised the role Twitter played, wondering if it could ever come to replace traditional media.

Dan Mitchell on the SF Weekly blog, addressing the issue, argued that "no, Twitter hasn't replaced CNN". With no intent of diminishing the role it played of what he called "the best real-time headline service yet invented and a place to come across news I wouldn't otherwise see", he however questioned if this could be called "citizen journalism".

He started from an article by Steve Myers of the Poynter Institute where the author noted how in 24 hours Sohaib Athar, the guy who live-tweeted the event, "went from someone who jokes with friends on Twitter and invites people to his coffee shop, to someone who broadcasts his thoughts to more than 86,000 followers".

"Good for him. But does having 86,000 followers make him a journalist? For that matter, did his real-time tweets of the events make him one?" wonders Mitchell. "Wondering on Twitter why there are helicopters flying around your neighbourhood isn't journalism."

Myers answered Mitchell explaining why he called Athar a citizen journalist.

"Athar is not a citizen journalist simply because he wondered about something on Twitter. Rather, he's a citizen journalist because when he came across an unusual event, he acted in a journalistic manner", he said.

He went on saying that Athar is a proper example of people who even if they aren't trained as journalists, undertake journalistic endeavors.

Journalists' job - at least once upon a time - was to go out of the newsroom to look for news, to report on events, to look for sources and news.
Citizen journalists find themselves in the place where the news is happening without having necessarily planned to be there, but then they act as journalists.

Athar, Myers noted, did not simply share his thoughts with friends. He observed something unusual and told others about it, answering questions, and sharing new information once he got them. He sought reports from news sources and shared them. He tried to analyse what was happening, citing his sources, even admitting they could be just rumours.

Witnessing something newsworthy alone doesn't make you a citizen journalist, Myers said. The next level is to share what you witnessed and digital tools allows us to share these information in a very pervasive and effective way. Other activities move you further up the ladder: seeking corroborating evidence, interviewing people, vetting sources, confirming information before sharing it, analyzing what happened, providing context. Each one is a specialized type of journalistic activity.

The difference with the past - he wrote - is that once this process was not evident, as the only thing to be shown was the final product. Twitter instead enabled journalists - whether professional or amateurs - to do this work in plain sight.

NPR's Andy Carvin acted as a one-man news agency, aggregating and curating tweets from the Arab World riots and he spent nights doing this job. He is a professional journalist. Athar is just a citizen one, Myers argued.

"What Athar did was journalistic. Social media brought it to the attention of professional journalists, who wrote about what he observed. Some of these stories simply noted that he heard some of the sounds of the raid. Others focused on the changing ways that we become informed about our world. Hundreds, if not thousands, of works of journalism were created as these professionals brought the news to their audiences", Myers wrote.

So is this "citizen journalists vs journalists" the simply new version of "bloggers vs journalists" debate, he wonders.

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