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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DigComm - Jan 2016

Week 5 Reflection: Free Culture, Free Speech, and Monetizing the Internet

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This week, we explored a variety of topics pertaining to internet use. Much of what we discussed expanded upon our previous discussion on “Who owns the internet?” with the added delving into of what each person can and can’t say on the internet. During the live session, my classmates and I presented on several different aspects of online ethics. I really enjoyed this part of the discussion, because as we have started to see over the past few weeks, when it comes to the internet and online culture, the laws are lagging and there is often a whole new set of rules.

After answering a prompt about our opinions on free culture, I did some more research on the topic, independently of anything we were assigned for class. I had been under the impression that “free” culture meant not charging for the viewing and distributing of art and other like-minded materials, such as movies and music. In actuality, “free culture” adopted the term “free” to liken itself to free speech. The idea of a “free” culture is more about the free-flowing exchange of unrestricted information than pirated music, which I was surprised to learn.

However, in America, there’s already things like open-source software and hacker culture – things that are fairly free to begin with. Yet there are still those who argue against this freedom. Sure, these critics are mostly large, important copyright lawyers and those who profit off of restricted access, but there are also smaller artists and upcoming producers who support the idea of a free culture, yet need the profits that come with restricted access to make a living producing their art.

So is there any validity to the idea that copyright law is ruining art? Particularly, in music, I can think of a few examples that might support this. Copyright has made remix culture and certain forms of expression particularly difficult. Additionally, it has really hurt the ‘average’ fan in a lot of ways. What about the poor couple who lost their wedding vows, speeches, and entire wedding audio all because their first dance was set to Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’? Just because an artist is greedy and their lawyers want to capitalize on fan popularity (see: how the original owner of the ‘Harlem Shake’ song made millions with YouTube and Content ID) doesn’t mean that fans should be discouraged from showing their appreciation with remixed art forms. Isn’t setting your wedding dance to a Taylor Swift song part of being a fan? Isn’t participating in remix culture part of what being a fan is all about?

This week’s material was troubling for me because, while I can see both sides of the issue, I am largely in favor of a free culture – with dual use of the word “free.” I believe that art should be less restricted, and I believe that art should be free of charge. For example, I have little respect for musicians who choose to keep their music off streaming services – don’t people who can’t afford the extra luxury of buying an album deserve to listen to music, too?

Yes, artists deserved to get paid for the content they produce, and, yes, there should be laws in place so that artists cannot be copied and thus lose profits to someone else’s copy, but there has to be a better way. In interviews, actors and musicians are quick to say that they produce art for their fans and because it is fulfilling – not for the money. Of course, many artists who make these statements are those that can probably afford to lose a few dollars due to a pirated CD – especially when album sales don’t really matter anymore.

But what about their fans who have student loans, car payments, and rent, and thus simply can’t spare a few extra dollars to see a movie in theaters or buy an entire album – or even a song or two on iTunes? To ignore the very real income inequality among supporters of music and movies is, I think, insensitive. At the same time, to ignore struggling artists who produce independent films and need ticket sales to be validated is also insensitive. I’ve thought a lot about this issue, and examined the many complicated aspects of it from both sides, and I’m still no closer to a solution or an answer than I was before Week 5’s Live Session.

Going forward, I welcome the input of my other classmates. I can’t be the only one who has struggled with this idea of a “free culture” and how it intersects with more complex issues, like systemic poverty and income inequality, so it would be valuable to see some other opinions on the issues. Furthermore, I feel as though I’ve debated a few relatively complex ideas in this blog post, and yet I didn’t even venture outside of American policy. Other countries have far more restrictive rules, so how could the idea of a “free culture” ever possibly work on a global scale?

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