Overview : Blogs and Journalism
The title for this week is Blogs and Journalism. Examining journalism on the Internet only through the medium of blogs, however, seems unnecessarily constraining. Perhaps this topic should be expanded to cover all forms of Participatory/Citizen Journalism. Which leads to the obvious question...
What is Citizen Journalism?
There is no easy answer to this question and depending on whom you ask you are likely to get very different answers. Some have called it networked journalism, open source journalism, and citizen media. Many traditional journalists view citizen journalism with some skepticism, believing that only trained journalists can understand the exactitude and ethics involved in reporting news. See, e.g., , , . This view seems to miss the whole point of what the Internet hath wrought. Mark Glasser, a longtime freelance journalist who frequently writes on new media issues, gets to the heart of what we are talking about:
The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others. For example, you might write about a city council meeting on your blog or in an online forum. Or you could fact-check a newspaper article from the mainstream media and point out factual errors or bias on your blog. Or you might snap a digital photo of a newsworthy event happening in your town and post it online. Or you might videotape a similar event and post it on a site such as YouTube.
This might seem radical to some, but the idea that average citizens can engage in the act of journalism has a long history in the United States. Professor Mary-Rose Papandrea, a constitutional law professor at Boston College, notes in her article Citizen Journalism and the Reporterâs Privilege that
[i]n many ways, the definition of journalist has now come full circle. When the First Amendment was adopted, âfreedom of the pressâ referred quite literally to the freedom to publish using a printing press,
rather than the freedom of organized entities engaged in the publishing business. The printers of 1775 did not exclusively publish newspapers; instead, in order to survive financially they dedicated most of their efforts printing materials for paying clients. The newspapers and pamphlets of the American Revolutionary era were predominantly partisan and became even more so through the turn of the century. They engaged in little newsgathering and instead were predominantly vehicles for opinion.
The passage of the term âjournalismâ into common usage in the 1830s occurred at roughly the same time that newspapers, using highspeed rotary steam presses, began mass circulation throughout the eastern United States. Using the printing press, newspapers could distribute exact copies to large numbers of readers at a low incremental cost. In addition, the rapidly increasing demand for advertising for brand- name products fueled the creation of publications subsidized in large part by advertising revenue. It was not until the late nineteenth century that the concept of the âpressâ morphed into a description of individuals and companies engaged in an often competitive commercial media enterprise.
Id. at 8. What has changed, however, is that with todayâs technology, the average person can capture news and distribute it globally. As a result, âthe capacity to make meaning â to encode and decode humanly meaningful statements â and the capacity to communicate oneâs meaning around the world, are held by, or readily available to, at least many hundreds of millions of users around the globe.â
These changes would not have surprised Marshall McLuhan, who observed in 1964 in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man:
After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. During the mechanical ages we had extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of manâthe technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media.
If anyone can be a citizen journalist, doesn't that make the term meaningless? After all, what is journalism? In 1997, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel set out to answer this question. As members of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, Kovach and Rosentiel held 21 public forums attended by 3,000 people and heard testimony from more than 300 journalists. After 3 years of research, they published their findings in The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect. What they found were some clear principles that all journalists seemed to agree on:
[T]he purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing. To fulfill this task:
- Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
- Its first loyalty is to citizens.
- Its essence is a discipline of verification.
- Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
- It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
- It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
- It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant.
- It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
- Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.
Id. at 12-13.
While not all of these elements will apply all of the time, the heart of journalism--the persistent attempt to show what is "true" in the world--is practiced widely by citizens on the Internet.
Brief History of Citizen Journalism on the Internet
Citizen journalism on the Internet got started in the mid-1990s. The earliest weblogs, however, were focused on reacting to the news,  and did not focus on original reporting. Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University and early proponent of citizen journalism, directed the Project on Public Life and the Press from 1993 to 1997 where he sought to get traditional journalists more involved in serving the public. Rosen is currently involved in NewAssignment.net, an innovative project that seeks to spark innovation in journalism by allowing open collaboration among reporters, editors and large groups of users. Rosen recently announced that the non-profit venture will be receiving $100,000 from Reuters to underwrite the costs of hiring the site's first editor, who will start in early 2007.
The first blog at a newspaper website was started by Dan Gillmor in 1999 while he was a technology columnist at the San Jose Mercury News. Gillmor has since written the seminal book on citizen journalism, We the Media, ran the failed project Bayosphere, his experiment in citizen journalism initially funded by a venture capital investment (see lessons learned from the failure in From Dan: A Letter to the Bayosphere Community, and now runs the Center for Citizen Media, a joint project of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley and Harvardâs Berkman Center for Internet & Society. As Gillmor notes, citizen journalism wasn't invented on September 11, 2001, but that day showed the power of participatory journalism and marked a new era in its popularity..
In 2004, bloggers were given press passes to the Republican and Democratic conventions, "marking a new level of influence and credibility for nontraditional journalists." In 2005, the earliest photos showing the London bombings on July 7 were taken by ordinary citizens with their cameraphones and made available to the world through sites such as Flickr and BBC Online.
There is, however, much debate on the future of Citizen journalism as the corporate world becomes interested in it. See Citizen Journalism, Past and Future
Types of Citizen Journalism Sites
Today, the number of citizen journalism sites is astonishing. While some sites are extensions of existing newspapers:
The vast majority are independent sites, such as:
Some of the newest sites are aggregators of individual blogs focused on certain communities or common interests:
Global Voices (aggregating global conversations)
Dailyheights.com (focused on the Prospect Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Backfence.com (nationwide, with locally focused sites in California, Maryland, Virginia, and Illinois)
One of the most interesting experiments in citizen journalism is the South Korean OhmyNews, an online newspaper with the motto "every citizen is a reporter". The majority of articles are written by freelance contributors. Its international edition now has 1.200 free lance contributors, and its model has been replicated by the danish site Flix.dk, started in 2003 by the journalist Erik Larsen, and by the israeil Website Scoop.co.il funded last year.
There is much discussion going on about the new risks for citizen media. The fact that companies have launched blog-centered advertising campaigns, paying bloggers to write about their product or service has stirred much debate. In the article Getting Paid to Blog Ethical?, an ohmynews citizen reporter discusses this new practice that blurs the line between blogging and advertising. This article in Businessweek, also alks about a company, PayPerPost.com, which does not require bloggers to say if a statement is an advertisement or not Polluting the Blogosphere
The lectures for this week are on Monday, October 16th at 1:15pm and Tuesday, October 17th at 1:15pm. Both will be taped. They will be available here in QuickTime format approximately 24 hours after they occur.
Get the Videos Delivered (or if you have trouble w/ playback)
- Democracy Player is a free and open source video player/aggregator that will download and play back your class videos (sort of like a TiVo for your computer).
- Mplayer is another free and open source video player with its own codecs for playing Real(tm) and Quicktime(tm) (as well as all the other common formats). Some people who have problems with Democracy Player can play the videos with mplayer.
- VLC is another video player. It is, in my opinion (this being Dean), far easier to use than Mplayer.
The grades in this class will be based on the character, power, and clarity of the message that comes through. It will be done not against a mean curve, but against the sense of how we have done.
Bridge Bloggers (Rebecca MacKinnon)
The blogosphere is usually seperated into seperate spheres based on language. Global Voices helped to bright that gap by bringing together bloggers in different languages from all over the world.
Filing a Complaint in the Court of Public Opinion
We will use the metaphor of the courtroom - what form would our complaint take? Thsi will act as a focusing idea. It will enable us to ask, with respect to the issue that we have engaged, how one would make a complaint in the court of public opinion. Specifically, how will one do so in a way that takes advantage of the cyber medium?
The idea about how to project the message is also a very necessary part of the discussion. Specifically, we must consider the medium with respect to the spheres of language, and the fact that many portions of the world have not seen as high a internet penetration.
How much does it help to get attention within the internet of the western world for issue outside that society? Does the sheer fact of outsider decrease the legitimacy of your argument, and the fact of your readership decrease its efficacy?
China and Government Censorship (Rebecca MacKinnon)
Chinese government system of censorship would not function without corporate complicity.
Conflict of interest - the government is asking that the company comply with its interest - but it goes against your own interest and recognized human rights. This is thrown into strongest relief in China, since it is a lucrative market and an authoritarian state. However, these issues are present everywhere in the world. (including the US) The discussion is: as western/multinational corporations make these decisions, what kind of precedent is this setting for their behavior globally?
How did she create the buzz?? Her blog entry about the taking down of a Chinese citizen's blog became that day's most-viewed blog post. It was linked to, etc causing it to get more attention in the press. Ironically, might have had more impact than her work as a CNN professional.
But she was a media professional - how does this help the average internet user learn about creating a buzz from scratch?
Tuesday, Oct. 17. Active Participation in the Media: Fake News, News from the People, the Boundaries of Citizen
JournalismGuest: Nick Sylvester
1st part of class: Riff Raff
We looked at some of Nick's Riff Raff "interviews" - made-up interviews with minor celebrities., whose point is to make fun of the guest in the vein of Ali G or Stephen Colbert. Discussion on the meaning of making up interviewers; should interviews be about the interviewer or interviewee, purpose of these interviews generally.
2nd part of class: the rise and fall (???) of Nick Sylvester
Started writing for Lampoon while undergrad at Harvard, later wrote for Pitchforkmedia and Village Voice. "Panopticon of internet" - "everybody will be famous to 15 people." Idea of reporting information out that becomes useless as soon as it's not secret anymore, applied it to "Room 207" and then to "The Game." Issues of leaving peoples' names in the article, now they get Googled. Information obsession in media. Nick's regrets, not about piece, but about way piece was presented.
3rd part of class: why apologize?
Prof. Nesson: why apologize if work just being misrepresented/misunderstoof? Nick: life situation didn't allow it. Other mistakes in execution of piece. Interactive process with VV of getting article ready to publish. What is the responsibility of the reader to evaluate sources critically? Ways in which google/technorati can be manipulated.
Last part of class: general discussion
Terminator/Tookie piece - exploring dissonance. Jon Stewart - says it's fake upfront, is he serious here, or just covering himself? Important of context in satire, lost in certain mediums. "Moral weight" versus instantly useful/categorizable facts. What if New York Times' reporters all decided to just write personal exploration pieces?
Discussion on Nick's guest lecture can be found here.
The codes can be found here: http://www.gamefaqs.com/portable/gameboy/code/585824.html
From the Syllabus:
- A typical example of the interview/writing style that made Nick a star.
- Another typical example, this time in the Village Voice.
- A reprint of the text of Nickâs cover story for the Village Voice.
- Village Voice retraction of Nickâs cover story.
- The venomous Gawker.com hosts one of the only available versions of the redacted part of Nickâs cover story. You may find it interesting to read more of their posts about Nick.
- Nickâs blog about the Village Voice incident.
- Marshall Macluhan. Understanding Media.
- To watch: documentary on East Timor with Chomsky
Weblogs and Journalism Need Each Other from Harvard University's Nieman Reports