Citizen Journalism 2

Suw Charman has written a scholarly examination of Citizen Journalism that is an excellent addition to the work of Ethan Zuckerman and Bruno Giussani that I reviewed here.

She makes a number of valuable contributions including suggesting the need for better terms to describe the interaction between citizens and news organizations. While she uses the accepted term ‘citizen journalism’ (CJ) she prefers ‘participatory media’ or ‘distributed journalism’. Her argument is that citizen journalism suggests a false dichotomy between regular and citizen journalists based on the value of their work and the motives they bring to reporting. This is a debate worth having – especially as the number citizens and organizations embracing this model is bound to increase.

She sees several roles for citizen journalists, describing each with examples of traditional media using these processes.

Distributed Investigation
Original reporting
Fact Checking
Crowd sourcing
Story Development

These are very similar to the roles identified by Ethan Zuckerman – possibly focused slightly more the role of CJ’s in the story development process – rather that the reaction and discussion of events which Ethan describes. This difference is most likely due to where each author sees that primary social value.

One result of the rise of CJ is the explosion on information – and with it the necessity to both filter it and to give it shape, context and if required a consistent focus. Here she is like Bruno Giussani suggesting that the role of news organizations is more of a moderator and curator than a gate keeper:

“The historical information bottleneck no longer exists, and the media are no longer in a position to act as gatekeepers who control the flow of information. Instead, they must now fulfil one of three core roles: ”
1. Investigation – supplying and receiving information
2. Curation – shaping information and providing context
3. Facilitation – providing location for public discussion

My own feeling is that news organizations must fill all of these roles In doing so their value as mediators of public discussion will grow, whether their focus is hyper-local, national or even sector specific reporting.

One can think of no better antidote to the of heard refrain “isolated incident” or “matter of policy” etc. than a news organization able to engage its public with insight shaped by an ability to dig persistently when needed, provide context and most importantly build on the mass of public knowledge, experience and stories about individual or organization. 

This is a richly researched paper that is worth a read not only for what it has to say about integrating CJ into ongoing reporting – but because of the rich links to organizations that are doing just that. .