Digital Newsmedia Group Two
The rise of the Internet and the ease of publishing online has led to the development of an online media that has affected the way our society experiences the media more broadly. The idea of "citizen journalism," originally heralded as either the savior or the doom of traditional news media, should be recognized as a much more complex, multi-faceted set of interactions between the "new" media and the "traditional" media. To be sure, some citizen journalism explicitly aims to fill in the gaps its participants perceive in traditional media coverage, by handling everything from coming up with the idea, to investigating it and discovering the facts, to analyzing the raw material, and writing and publishing the piece. But some of the true power of citizen journalism is its enormous set of participants, and indeed in its very diversity of forms. By creating the platform through which traditional news media and the public can easily interact and leverage the other's strong points, online media has the potential to dramatically improve our access to information.
None of this is to deny that several issues exist and remain. The blurring of the lines that has occurred between fact, opinion, news, entertainment, traditional media, participatory media, has resulted in a deluge of information that is difficult to differentiate from each other; whereas once Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America, a recent online poll voted a comedian the most trusted news anchor. This melding and meshing creates or emphasizes some serious questions about what the role of the media is or should be, whether the civic function of public information is being served, the way the media affects our relationships with each other, and even whether the search for capital-T Truth does or should remain a priority — and if so, how to encourage and foster it.
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
- OReilly We Media book and more.
- Public Journalism 2.0
- NYTimes Rosen Article
- Next Newsroom Project
- Nieman Journalism Lab
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.
Media has become more reliant on citizen journalism as the advantages far outweigh the drawbacks in many cases. Citizen Journalism has been said to make media more "interactive" by allowing comments and stories written by the the traditional readers of the articles. It allows quicker access to news and stories that would otherwise have never been reported appear on the front page many a times. One of the most significant advantages is to localize news to a deeper level (e.g. live scores of high school sports games, etc...) by allowing real-time updates from the users. Oftentimes, user generated content spurs not only new topics - but leads to more news. For example:
- In December 2002, Trent Lott resigned as House Majority Leader after a blog commented on a racist remark he made
- People worked to identify the false nature of different 60 Minutes documents on President Bush
- Citizen Journalists identified the perpetrator in a Youtube video depicting an online prostitution scandal
Because of the greater breadth that the general populace has over breaking news stories and providing them for free in an equally as viral capacity as, for example, premium content on the New York Times - citizen journalism has become like non-profit journalism because of the absence of the need to subscribe to the top news sources for the same information. (Financial Crisis in Media)
Larry Atkins suggested that there should be a rating system in place for citizen contributors much like the eBay rating system and sessions should be held to teach journalistic standards to citizen journalists. This allows some validity in the users' comments, or at the very least - some recognition of the effort taken to verify all news sources that were used. (Rise of Citizen Journalism)
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. 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.
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.
One strain of criticism of citizen journalism has been that it does not conform to the objectivity norm central to American journalism. But the objectivity standard itself has been questioned; it is not the governing norm in Europe, for example.. 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. 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. 
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.
|Traditional||Sometimes coming up with an idea and deciding whether newsworth is unnecessary, for example when reactively reporting something big that happened||Newspaper / TV|
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."
- Knight Citizen News Network
"Self Help" Portal dedicated to helping citizen journalists start their own news service and reporting factually correct news to which people are reliant upon.
- Eleven Layers
- Sourcewatch List of Websites
- Sourcewatch wiki page on Citizen Journalism
- OReilly We Media book
- CNN iReport
- Spot.us (crowd funding)
- Six Journalism Startups
- E Pluribus Media
- J Lab
- Citi Media Law
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 crowdsourced fact gathering and taking a big picture view, the problems of participatory journalism and online media merge into the problems of the traditional, mainstream media. In fact, the separation between the two is beginning to seem ever more illusory, as the taxonomy of models for interactions between the two continues to expand, and the traditional media adapts in response and the online community continues to evolve. But there are real problems for whatever we want to call what is emerging out of the synthesis, of which a few are offered below.
Rush to be First
Although the concept of a "scoop" has long played a role in journalism, the ability of the public to be everywhere at once, beating out even those journalists first on the scene, and the proliferation of ways to publish descriptions, pictures, or even videos of a newsworthy event means citizens simply because of volume and access will probably often have the upper hand in breaking some kinds of news. Traditionally, top-down news sources competed to be the first by monitoring significant areas geographically, but such monitoring no longer guarantees that they will be first to hear about breaking news without also looking for tips in the blogosphere. Although the New York Times may criticize online blogs for publishing "half-baked" stories, most people recognize that "process journalism" is being practiced not only by blogs and new forms of media, but also by traditional news outlets. Although characterizing the online media as the cause is certainly a disputable proposition (the advent of the 24 hour news cycle and increased commercialization of news has also been blamed), the question remains as to whether this really is a problem. Some argue that "process journalism" should not necessarily be equated with "sloppy journalism," but instead as a more interactive and iterative mode of publishing. But recognizing a role for process journalism does not mean that there is no value in "product journalism"; there is value in having access to a source that gives you "the news," traditionally understood, and in our market-driven media environment, such a product does not benefit from the expectation that the Internet will know about something as soon as it happens.
News and Entertainment
This is also not something that should be considered the sole responsibility of new media forms, but the blurring lines between news as information and news as entertainment may cause problems because a lot of the news that we need to know simply is not entertaining. Jay Rosen argues that "[t]he press has become the ghost of democracy in the media machine, and we need to keep it alive.". But presumably mass media has moved in this way for a perfectly rational reason; it gets viewers, which bring advertisers, which provide money. Even if some of us continue to value and maintain a belief in the role of "The Press" in a legitimate democracy, its sustainability may fall into question. Currently, the trend seems to be toward non-profit investigative journalism centers seems to be doing well (for example, ProPublica recently won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism) but it is still a little early to tell.
As discussed above, there is also a risk that bad actors may be able to influence and distort the public perception of the news, undermining the ability of the public to be informed. This risk may be exacerbated in the online context, where no corporate bureaucracy and editing process at least lessens the risk. Moreover, since something published on the Internet usually cannot practically be taken back, any information that we as a society wish to keep off of it is at a much bigger risk of being leaked than was traditionally the case. The recent controversy over Wikileaks has brought this issue center stage, although there is no consensus on whether that information in particular might have been better left undisclosed.
Truth in Society
All of the issues discussed above involve the value of truth. A significant part of our cultural perception of the value of the press is in discovering the truth and bringing it to light, but our faith in the media — whether traditional or online — to effectuate that goal seems to have been shaken by a convergence of several factors, including the digital media and information overflow, the 24-hour news cycle and at least the perception (and probably the reality) of an increased commercialization of news. Academia values the search for truth as something that society ought to support even without a market for it; perhaps "capital-J" journalism should shift into something more like that model. Yet even if "the truth is out there," information overload may make it difficult to discover. and even if we find it and read it, our constant context-shifting makes it difficult to properly determine whether something we remember came from a meticulously researched reliable news source or from an off-the-cuff blog post. Moreover, the diversity of news sources available make it easy to seek out those that conform to your own particular ideology and world view and this "balkanization" may arguably lead to a lack of shared experiences and the ability to solve social problems. Whether truth is possible and what role truth-seeking should have in society are big questions, but citizen journalism and the media more generally offer interesting insights into one facet of the issue.
- See, e.g., http://www.editorsweblog.org/analysis/2005/12/from_citizen_journalism_myth_to_citizen.php; http://www.hypergene.net/blog/weblog.php?id=P327!. But even this angle of the narrative may be oversimplified; consider this article, published in 2003.
- See, e.g., http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2009/01/30/twittering-away-standards-or-tweeting-the-future-of-journalism/.
- See The Journalism of Outrage: Investigative Reporting and Agenda Building in America.
- See http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=questioning_journalistic_objectivity
- See id.; http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/nov/01/objectivity-real-citizen-journalism. For more on the history of the objectivity norm, see http://www.une.edu.py/maestriacs/schudson_the_objectiviy_norm_in_american_journalism_journalism_2.2.pdf.
- Professor David Weaver has suggested "citizen communication".
- See, for example, Wikinews and its "neutral point of view."
- An illustrative question often asked in the discussion is "Who is a journalist and does it matter?" See Dan Gillmore's post as an example.
- See http://www.j-source.ca/english_new/detail.php?id=5173; http://blog.journalistics.com/2009/process_journalism_and_it_twitter_enabler/ traditional news outlets.
- See Thomas E. Patterson, Bad News, Bad Governance 546 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 97, 103 (Jul., 1996).]
- See, e.g., http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-jarvis/product-v-process-journal_b_212325.html.
- See http://www.ourblook.com/Citizen-Journalism/Richard-Roher-on-Citizen-Journalism.html for this view.
- See Cass Sunstein, Republic.com. However, some initial empirical research indicates that this has not yet occurred in political discourse. See Paul DiMaggio and Kyoko Sato, Does the Internet Balkanize Political Attention?: A Test of the Sunstein Thesis.