A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged citizen journalism

Camera Work

Like many opinionated rant online commentators about journalism, I get fairly regular e-mails from students asking for my comments on journalism, blogging and social media. Inspired by Jon Bernstein making his responses to one set of questions public, I’ve decided to do the same, if only so I can point any future student who wants to ask about this to the post. Because, really, this is probably my last word on “citizen journalism”.

1) What are your thoughts on citizen journalism?

It’s a horribly dated, misbegotten concept from the mid-2000s that really should have died by now. It’s the bastard child of early online enthusiasts who had an axe to grind with the journalism profession, and wanted to see it wiped out, and the arrogance of journalists, who assumed that as soon as the general public had access to publishing tools, they’d start doing journalism. Instead, as we know, they mainly use these tools to publish pictures of babies, cats and inspirational quotes. That, if nothing else, is the lesson of Facebook.

There are three types of people:

  1. Professional journalists – people who are paid to do journalism
  2. Amateur journalists – people who do journalism for free
  3. Ordinary people – some of whom, once in a while, will do something that might be called “citizen journalism”. 
Sure, the internet has allowed the rise of more amateur journalists – but they existed before. On the whole, they’re either serving unprofitable niches, or, if they find a profitable one, rapidly become de facto professional journalists… The more significant elements has been the ability of eyewitnesses and participants in news events to publish material – information, photos and video – from breaking news events without going through a journalist. There is no such thing as a citizen journalist.
There are just citizens, who sometimes engage in the act of journalism.
Besides, since when does becoming a professional journalist make you no longer a citizen? I’m both a citizen and a journalist. Therefore, aren’t I a citizen journalist? This concept really wasn’t well thought through… And yes, I regret using the phrase “citizen journalist” in my headline on my Guardian Witness post. That was a mistake. 

2) Do you think that organisations with a valued reputation such as the BBC are losing out in terms of journalistic content to amateurs that just happen to be in the right place at the right time?

No, because they’re actively looking for such material, passing it through their social media verification processes and then building it into stories. “Citizen journalism” isn’t competition. It’s a source. 

5) Do you think that citizen journalism endangers any professional aspects of news gathering and the production of news today or do you think it displays a positive effect?

I think it’s a threat to lazy, inaccurate news gathering, as we’ve seen repeatedly. People can correct shoddy journalism publicly far more easily than they could in the past, and journalists’ reputations can be destroyed. It may have a positive effect in the long term, as the media learns how to operate in the knowledge that it will almost always be second reporter on any major breaking news, as people on the groups will end up pushing it out through social media instead. There’s a role for journalists in the social media chaos in the immediate aftermath of a major event – but that’s fodder for another post. 

Guardian Witness

Joanna Geary:

The GuardianWitness platform, and supporting iPhone and Android apps will help us to carry on this tradition. It will allow you to tell your story – by desktop or mobile – by submitting pictures, videos and text to journalists directly from an assignment.

It also has its own site, which allows you to submit and browse news, opinions and creations submitted to those assignments.

If your submission is picked up by a journalist it could go on to be featured across the Guardian – in print and online – which means you can help set the news agenda and become part of the Guardian’s award-winning journalism.

Guardian Witness is part of their Open Journalism initiative, of course, which is itself just a branded version of the idea of networked journalism.

But it does seem to offer a method of smoothing the journey from an isolated act of citizen journalism to that act being part of an orchestrated piece of journalism conducted by a journalist. Is it needed? Aren’t people more likely to contribute via their own social presences? I suspect that this experiment will tell us one way or another. 

Update: there’s an obligatory “tinkly music” app demo video that startups have made de rigeur

Update 2: Graham has a good point: 

Yes, this does feel very much like a 2006/2007 “come, create user generated content on our site” effort. But there are good people that I respect involved in this effort – I’d be interested to hear from them how this differs from that… 

Update 3: Graham has articulated this further on his own blog.

Update 4: And now we know the commercial relationship with EE at work, thanks to Joanna speaking at Shift 2013:

Update 5: Joanna has some interesting hints in her response:

Citizen reporting at work

Laurie Penny:

As more and more ordinary men, women and children without degrees in journalism acquire the skills and technology to broadcast text and video, the media has become another cultural territory which is gradually being re-occupied. Those on the ground do not have to wait for the BBC and MSNBC to turn up with cameras: they make the news and the reporters follow. They have grown up in a world of branding and they know how to create a craze and set the agenda. They occupy the media. And the media is starting to worry.

I only disagree with that last sentence. The media has been worrying for years.

Warning: Liveblogging – errors and typos likely

iVillage – Lulu Phongmany:

Been around for 10 years without really talking to the community about what they wanted. Very different issues drive success in message boards as opposed to content. Content seems tool-based, forums more around mutual support issues.

Food site relaunch: Editors and community managers are of equal footing in the approval process. Integrated community with content so there’s no real distinction. In essence message board content is seen as no different to anything else. 285% up on page views.

The more options for participation, the better. Bake community into the whole editorial process.

Chris Taggart – OpenlyLocal

Journalists don’t generally know much about anything – they aren’t really interested in the subject, just the story. Fine for basic, traditional reporting. It worked because they had skills and access to information other people didn’t have. And all this (cuttings libraries, directories, contacts) have been subsumed by the web. But it’s still about the stories. And they can be focal points for conversations.
Your readers know more about the subject than you do. The thought of doing journalism without involving them is terrifying.

Naked Capitalism blog is a great example of journalism done with the audience.
Newspapers get blogs wrong because they’re not used to having a conversation.

Paul Bradshaw – Birmingham City Uni, Help Me Investigate

Citizen journalism is a patronising and outdated term. It covers a ridiculously wide range of activities: accidental journalism, value adder, data analyst, the ear or eye of a group of friends…

Collaboration is about many groups, overlapping, and working in collaboration. A journalist is an ideal overlap point. Join the dots, make interesting connections. That’s what Help Me Investigate has found in its investigations.

Help Me Investigate is essentially a project management tool for collaborative investigation.
How to get people involved: Don’t ask, don’t offer tokens; lead by example. Share.

It has been a funny old week, as the lazy, journalistic cliché goes. This time last week, I was telling myself for the third afternoon in a row that I’d do my slides for news:rewired tomorrow, and now they’ve spent the best part of a day on the front page of SlideShare

I think that the good folks at are to be congratulated for the conference. It’s the first journalism shindig I’ve been to where it felt like the majority of the people who are actively engaged in the front line of journalism exploration in the digital age where there, and willing to share and robustly debate their views and experiences. In short, it felt like a conference where you could learn something, and that beats the same old corporate faces giving the same old corporate presentations we see too often.
And it has most decidedly sparked some discussion. Most of it was very useful, as the compilation of links and discussion makes clear, and I’ll almost certainly blog more about that in the coming days. But some of it really revealed the fractures in this industry, as it desperately tries to reshape itself.
I have a theory, which Andy alluded to in his blog post about the event (uh, Andy – might want to get the subs to check my surname there, by the way… 😉 ). Most journalists, if they loved their industry (or their job, which is not quite the same thing) have to go through the standard five stages of grief, as they deal with the changes that are happening to our profession. Many are still in denial (and Kevin made a good job of eviscerating their dismissal of all things digital), but some of the people who were there were very clearly still in the throes of anger.
In some ways, I think the citizen journalist versus “real” journalist debate that kicked off in the crowdsourcing session, moderated by The Telegraph‘s Kate Day, is pretty much a non-debate, as Sarah explains:

Personally, I find this an outdated debate but I fear it will go round-and-round until the idea that people can have a ‘virtual life’ and a ‘real’ one as two separate things is finally, belatedly put to rest.

That would be the move to “acceptance”, of course.
I fear that we, in the mainstream media (does B2B really count as mainstream?), are somewhat to blame for this continuing conflict, though, because we have had a tendency to appropriate the name “citizen journalist” for user-generated content on our sites, rather than use it in the context it was intended – people using the tools the web provides to publish their own acts of journalism to the internet. As Martin identifies, part of the heat of the debate was in people confusing publishers using low cost (low value?) content from the audience with people choosing to publish for themselves. 
I think Jon hits the nail right on the head, when he suggests that we forget the labels, and get on with thinking about how the tools allow us to do good journalism. And I mean good journalism, not the sort of shoddy page-filling nonsense torn apart here
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

I’ve just run across an interesting post from Neil McIntosh about the phrase “citizen journalist”, often used to describe bloggers and mobloggers who do some form of reporting, and how lacking in meaning it really is.

I very briefly became a citizen journalist of note about three weeks ago, because of a handful of photos I took on the morning of the London bombings. I do feel odd about the whole thing, because the people who spoke to me were trying so hard not to look at the facts. I was lauded in an AP story and Wired as an example of the new breed of citizen journalists. But I’m not a citizen journalist. I’m a professional journalist. I have the NUJ card and the weekly deadlines stress as features editor of a major business magazine to prove it. It’s a natural impulse for me to report on things. It’s what I do for a living. And using a professional to illustrate a story about amateurs still seems odd to me. Sure, what I was doing wasn’t part of my job, but I’m still, inherently, someone who makes a living by communicating things.

I suspect that one of the real reasons I was picked up on around the 7th of July was that I am easy to track down. I blog under my real name, and my work contact details can be easily found on the EG Group website.

However, what people like me were doing that day wasn’t really traditional journalism. We were documenting things around the actual explosions: the mood of people in the city, the way Londoners were reacting, what it felt like to be in the city that day. If you followed Flickr photos and blog posts you could gain a much more palpable sense of how London reacted to the events of that day than any reporter can get by sticking a microphone under the nose of a passer-by and asking if they’re scared.

Which is all a long-winded way of saying that Neil is right. The “citizen journalist” term is essentially bogus. What bloggers and mobloggers are doing in situations like that is adding to the breadth of communication around an event, not competing with the mainstream media. The phrase sets up an implied conflict between “citizen journalists” and “journalists”, one that I just don’t think exists.