Digital Newsmedia Group Two

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The Internet and the rise of online media has fundamentally changed the way that we think about it. The viral-nature of cyberspace goes hand-in-hand with online media allowing a reach far wider than print media ever had, stimulating quick discover and rapid news release. The paradigm we have witnessed over the last decade or so has been a shift from traditional print news sources to a similar online version - representing a top-down approach. This gradually led to bottom-up material as blogs, social media, and participatory journalism came into effect - completely changing how news has been reviewed.

Traditionally news has been a methodology by which the populace would become educated via the transfer of facts and other knowledge. Although this continues to remain consistent, we have had the significant introduction of opinion-y media, stimulating a "marketplace of ideas" and "entertainment." The blogosphere has exploded with personal reporting of topics anywhere from individuals' lives to international terrorism. Social Media has led to Twitter statuses about current events in the Middle East and Iran. Participatory commentary on reputed news stories has spurred controversy in the most basic of articles. More and more claims of defamation have been filed, debates on censorship and adherence to certain standards applies to "bloggers" have initiated, and most importantly - an effort to identify a real problem by the advent of this "Citizen Journalism" has been struggled with.


Investigative Journalism, or the in-depth, multi-sourced, and original reporting of processes, not events, that are of interest because they are oftentimes secrets that have been uncovered, was traditionally the sole reference when The Freedom of the Press was written in the Bill of Rights.

A Short History of Online Participatory Journalism

Working Definitions? Don't want to focus too much on terminology; seems to have moved the debate into less productive territory (see below). Some blurring; increasing numbers of traditionally trained journalists participating in less traditional fora. But see story from China where identified unpopular people and found identifying information on where they live etc.

Citizen Participatory Journalism does not have a concrete definition due to the sheer breadth of the concept. It involves the everyday citizen / the audience in some way or the other - either as a brand new entity or as a part of an existing. By this, it is clear that meer participation by commenting or reviewing existing articles is still considered "Participatory Journalism." However, more commonly, is the writing of blog posts, the submission of photos or videos, or the creation of a new "thread" - articles which further citizens can comment upon, or can be picked up by a top-down news media organization. In either one of these scenarios, the citizen is adding something new, thereby classifying it as "journalism," or indicating a new angle on something else. The mere statement of opinions is not considered participatory journalism because no research of clear points-of-view are expressed.

Many argue as to the standards that citizens journalists are held accountable for. Regular journalistic ethics revolve around diligence in research, non-defamatory articles, accuracy in statements, and relevant news leading to the enhancement of knowledge among citizens. These standards are enforced in top-down news systems by very defined repercussions to the individual and the news agency he/she is a part of. However, with bloggers - these consequences do not exist, and therefore, the journalistic standards, although ideal, are not met many a times. It is very optimistic to simply state that in the future they can be held accountable for these standards, however, there is no method of enforcement with the magnanimity of the current citizen journalism sphere.



Current Focus and Debate

The current debate about the role of participatory journalism and its relationship to traditional media is much more textured and subtle than the "Us Against Them: Will Citizen Journalism Replace Traditional Media?" dialogue that supposedly characterized the attitude of traditional and citizen journalists when it first arose in our consciousness in the early 2000s.[1] There is increased recognition of interactions between the two changing the nature of each, and increasing numbers of traditional journalists and their parent news organizations have embraced new forms of social interaction.[2]

Even recent contributions, however, have occasionally framed the debate as being for or against "citizen journalism," often primarily focusing on the word "journalism," and thus limiting the scope to individuals who self-consciously engage in their own independent journalism without interacting with more traditional news sources.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no name must have content Much of the "anti" citizen journalism arguments emphasize the training, level of analysis, and social commitment that is necessary to do true, "big-J" journalism.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no name must have content All of these points are accurate, but hard-hitting investigative journalism has never been the exclusive focus of our media generally, nor even of journalism in particular.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; refs with no name must have content Moreover, even the contemporary view of the role of journalism as serving the value of providing truth to the public is a relatively recent phenomenon.&#91;3&#93;

One strain of criticism of citizen journalism has been that it does not conform to the objectivity norm central to American journalism.&#91;4&#93; But the objectivity standard itself has been questioned; it is not the governing norm in Europe, for example.&#91;5&#93;. Moreover, the media has always encompassed a spectrum from "fact" to "opinion"; both traditional and participatory media fall at various points along the line from "fact" to "opinion." Even if citizen journalism is less "objective," a question on which we take no stand, it may still serve a valuable social function in contributing to the marketplace of ideas. Although "fact" information is extremely socially useful for ensuring that the public is informed and can properly execute civic duties, just because participatory media does not fall directly into that box does not necessarily make it useless.


Given the broader spectrum of the media, then, suggests that the underlying problem may be more of a concern over the label of citizen journalism than any inherent issue about objectivity.&#91;6&#93; If the label is the problem, its potential for harm lies in the extent to which people rely on it. But although the Internet has played an increased role as a news source, much of the content still seems to come from legacy news sources. As far as "objectivity" is concerned, communities of self-styled participatory media may develop norms / codes, either on own or imported from journalism, in order to increase legitimacy and provide value. &#91;7&#93;

Breakdown and a Rough Taxonomy

Perhaps because its proponents most visibly identify as "journalists" and therein raise the hackles of traditional, trained journalists, much of the normative debate has focused on those sites that allow individuals to act completely as "news gatherers": identifying a story that they think is newsworthy, going out into the world and collecting facts, analyzing those facts, and writing and publishing a story.

Idea Newsworthy? Fact Gathering Analysis Write Publish
Traditional Sometimes coming up with an idea and deciding whether newsworth is unnecessary, for example when reactively reporting something big that happened Newspaper / TV
Online Participatory Internet

Participatory journalism can be seen as special case of Crowdsourcing, but more interesting because both sides self-consciously interact with the other. Where does the benefit of the "crowd" come in? Analogy to law / fact; really in the analysis (mixed question of law and fact) that is key to providing something useful.

Examples demonstrating different paradigms for shifting and sharing responsibilities for different parts of the process

  • Commenting on news articles; each participant can then "re-analyze" the facts and make own conclusions

Allows the everyday citizen to submit article "tips"/"ideas" which are then distributed to partnering top-down news organizations. Upon interest from journalists there, the ideas are pitched and funded by citizens on Spot.Us. Represents a way that top-down and bottom-up journalism converge.

  • CNN iReport (quite bottom-up, but meshes with top-down)

People can share stories or opinions based on prompts that they create or prompts that are provided. Based on the most votes and what reports are considered the best, CNN uses them on their external platforms like live news and their main news portal. A majority of the topics provided are not at the forefront of pressing events - current topics (12/19/10) include stories of "wintery weather" and "Travel Shots of Mexico."

  • ...

See also

A Closer Look at One Box

Why this box? Interesting because definitely one stage where people do not have to consciously self-identify as participants in the journalism process. Just going to the airport and tweeting to complain, but can be valuable "news" for someone deciding when to leave. What are implications of leveraging information when not necessarily provided for that purpose? Some cross-over with Crowdsourcing?

Potential Problem: Fact Verification / News Creation

Using facts gathered: how do you fact check?

The Huffington Post has a clear description of different Standards of Citizen Journalism which include the identification of the author and all the sources that are used in the writing of this piece. However, oftentimes, these are not adhered to in the case of anonymous blogs and

Limit by news topic; no real reason for anyone to lie about, e.g. lines at Boston Logan or Comcast cable being down, but be wary of exploitation by, e.g., governments without much freedom of press when aware that look to twitter stream for information. To whose benefit is it to cast doubt on integrity of information? Relationship between journalist and source; shift? Implications of lack of personal connection?

Sense of video / pictures as indisputable "fact," but not necessarily true either; at least for a while, allows exploitation, see ACORN scandal.

ACORN Scandal: The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now was "infiltrated" by James O'Keefe - a 25 year old filmmaker. He dressed as a pimp and with a woman nicknamed "Kenya," he approached ACORN individuals asking for housing and advice on continuing a prostitution service. The ACORN individuals readily helped, and the whole scene being secretly videotaped was released on the internet by O'Keefe for the public to view. ACORN as a result had many employees fired and sued O'Keefe for defamation. See Investigation Video for ACORN

Is the solution just for "trusted" news sources not to rely on it? But then how can they compete (see rush to be first).

Taking a Step Back

Stepping away from the specifics of community fact gathering and taking a holistic view of the issue, the problems with participatory journalism and media seem to merge with the problems of the traditional, mainstream media.

Rush to be First

News and Entertainment

No separation of message type vs. "the 6:00 news with So-and-So"

Manufacturing News

Place for Truth?

Academia: search for truth valued even where no market; sometimes "we" ought to support something even if no market for it Epistemic paralysis: can't remember where things came from because swimming in information

Shared experiences? "Balkanization of media consumption" (Sunstein?) Seal for those willing to open notes? (Lessig)