DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 8 Reflection: In the defense of Citizen Journalism

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This week’s class was largely discussion based, and we had an interesting and complex talk about citizen journalism. My views on citizen journalism have always been complex. Of course I agree that paid journalists are paid because they are dedicated professionals, and I have always felt that journalists deserve our respect for the work they do, but I don’t think that feeling this way means I have to discredit citizen journalism.

The fact of the matter is that citizen journalism is insanely important. During the live session, it seemed (at least to me) that most of my classmates could sort of concede to that point, but, for the most part, they felt that citizen journalism is not as important as ‘real’ journalism. In my opinion, it’s a fine line. I agree that citizen journalists might not be as passionate as some professionals. I agree that citizen journalists might not vet their sources like professional journalists (hopefully) do. And yet, at the same time, we should all be aware that when we talk about professional journalists in such high regard, not all professional journalists deserve it.

To disregard citizen journalists so blatantly just doesn’t sit well with me. To say that citizen journalists cannot have the same amount of passion and professionalism that a professional journalist has even seems classist – many chefs have never been to culinary school. Yet there is little discrimination among professionals in the kitchen. Not everyone can afford to go to school. So why are citizen journalists considered lesser than their “educated” counterparts?

Maybe the issue is that people are reluctant to accept the way journalism is changing. Though it seems obvious that journalism is moving online, there will probably always be people who don’t “trust” the news unless it comes from a seasoned New York Times columnist. Yet, as a media student, I am well aware of the way that any news can be manipulated. The ease of digital manipulation is another criticism to citizen journalism – even though this isn’t something new to the industry. News channels and publications have always considered the interest of their network and the higher-ups when planning a story. Facts have always been omitted – sometimes the wrong news even gets reported to further a network’s interests. What is it about citizen journalism that makes people think there will be more deceit than we’re already used to?

But my main defense of citizen journalism is that, so often, it tells a side of the story that the media is obscuring. A quick Google search for “what the media won’t show you in Ferguson” brings literally hundreds of thousands of results. Many articles are filled with images of community love and togetherness that did not fit the mainstream media’s narrative of riots and chaos. Yet, in a situation like what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this year, isn’t it incredibly important that this side of the story is shown?

Citizen journalists are able to tell these stories because they only answer to one person: themselves. Citizen journalists fact-check the media and call them out when they make mistakes. Citizen journalists do what “professionals” are unable to do, and I don’t think that ordinary people would act this way if they weren’t passionate about the truths they were trying to tell. And for those who argue that it is impossible to trust what citizen journalists say, I ask you to remember all the times that “professional” journalists have lied to us in the past.

All media should be consumed with a grain of salt and a heavy dose of cynicism. Yet when I log onto Twitter and check the hashtags of protests, political rallies, and events, I am more likely to believe a tweet from a “regular” person than a journalist. Advocacy journalism has been so heavily biased recently that I, and many others, look to bloggers, tweeters, and other strangers on social media for accurate information. There is something about these people on Twitter that is innately honest – I almost feel as though I’m reading a tweet from a friend. There are very few journalists that I trust this way.

Maybe that’s the journalists’ fault.

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What I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel we should discredit citizen journalists so easily. “Professional” journalists have certainly made mistakes, yet no one looks at journalism they way they look at politics – as a dishonest industry. Citizen journalists should be granted the same respect – at least until they prove they are not deserving of it.

I enjoyed this week’s class discussion. As always, I liked listening to others’ perspectives on issues that are important to me. But I was surprised that, really, only myself and one other student argued in favor of citizen journalism. After doing some more research on the topic when it came time to write this blog, I realized that a majority of people are actually against citizen journalism; I am not in the minority just in class.

Maybe people need to be more open to change, or more critical of both sides of the issue and more aware of the gray area between respecting professionals and commending the work of amateurs. Citizen journalists have done some great things. This isn’t to discount the incredible work professional journalists have done over the years – I don’t see why applauding either side has to be at the detriment to the other. Why does there even have to be sides?

If nothing else, I hope this blog inspired those who feel one way about the issue to consider the other side’s point of view. It’s what an unbiased journalist would want.

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