So Many Questions, So Few Traditional Journalists

Citizen journalism, User Generated Content, citizen media, grassroots media, crowd sourced journalism, networked journalism… am I the only one who thinks the online lectures are simply giving us a different term for the same concept week after week?

I could be wrong but it feels that someone, somewhere is forever coming up with another term for the public’s contribution to the news. Is there more than one way to skin a cat?

It would appear so as, this week, JOMEC students were yet again presented with another form of citizen journalism. Can we all put our hands together and give a big round of applause for (drum roll)… Networked Journalism – come on down!

According to Jeff Jarvis, networked journalism takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas and perspectives. All of this seems very familiar but what exactly are the differences between networked and citizen journalism?

At the Networked Journalism Summit in New York, Jarvis said, “Journalism can and must expand even as the institutions that do journalism shrink. The future is ‘pro-am journalism’, doing things together.” At the same summit, Charlie Beckett reiterated this, saying the idea of the professional and the amateur working together is the future; the war is over, we are all on the same side.

These men are hailing networked journalism as some kind of miracle for journalists, and indeed the public, everywhere. But is the war really over? In any war is anyone ever really happy? Do all sides emerge at the other end satisfied? Or are Jarvis and Beckett looking at this through their rose tinted glasses?

I find it hard to believe that all journalists will quite happily accept members of the public into their lives as easily as that. Jarvis cites the ‘shrinking journalism institutes’ of which we are all too aware. There are fewer and fewer journalism jobs out there and is this, in some small way, because of citizen journalism or networked journalism? Call me suspicious but I tend to think it might be.

I am not going to use this blog to completely criticise everything Jarvis/Beckett types believe in as, obviously, there are some merits to networked journalism, the biggest of these being crowdsourcing. The main merits of crowdsourcing are the low costs and high success rates of some outsourcing projects, the Fort Myers News-Press Hurricane Katrina strategy being an obvious example.

Others believe that crowdsourcing can be viewed almost as a form of human exploitation. Douglas Rushkoff is very outspoken with his views against crowdsourcing and its implications.

Advocates of networked journalism argue that it gives a journalist a means of doing something they couldn’t do themselves. But how effective is it? Does everyone involved produce news worthy stuff? Is everything they report accurate? How do we know if it is or not? Are there enough checks being carried out? So many questions… ones to which I do not have the answers.

Jay Rosen warned that only one per cent of any group of people who volunteer to get involved are truly creative and only 10 per cent produce anything journalistic. He said: “You can’t just open the floodgates and expect the public to produce. If there are too many people involved then it simply creates too much work for the journalist to make it worthwhile.” Is this a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth?

And another point: where are we supposed to find the time to do all of this this? If you look at Liverpool Daily Post journalist, Alison Gow’s Lifecycle of a News Story, her methods of writing news in Web 2.0 seem a lot more time consuming than the old fashioned way –  the one I most enjoy. What’s wrong with picking up the telephone or the good old fashioned meet and greet? Undoubtedly, that is the technophobe coming out in me again. Perhaps I am missing a huge part of the bigger picture. Perhaps one day it will all fall into place and perhaps it won’t.

More and more people are arguing that journalists must now aspire to more than just the manufacture of news. Charlie Beckett cites that we are no longer the privileged gate-keepers to information or the sole arbiters of editorial judgement. So what are we exactly? What is the media organisation and essentially, the journalists’ new job? Are we all merely sub-editors, connectors, facilitators or sifters of information?

I suspect I may have gravitated towards this profession for some of the wrong reasons. I like to be the one with the inside story; I like to be the one that brings this insider’s view to the masses (in my own unique style). And I like writing. I feel with all this new technology and media, traditional journalists or rather, journalists with traditional ideals, are being cheated.

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One Comment on “So Many Questions, So Few Traditional Journalists”

  1. egrommet Says:

    What I find fascinating is that people once distrusted the telephone – it was impossible to see who you were talking to and how they were reacting to what was being said.

    Now, how many journalists stay tethered to their phone, or even their email account rather than going out and seeing people? I don’t know, but it is an important point to make.

    I’m not saying that all Web 2.0 is good, and BTW what Alison Gow was talking about was a set of tools not a prescription for each story. We have to focus on the tools available and see what is appropriate for the job.

    As to your question about whether all these terms are the same thing – maybe, but there are different takes on the idea. UGC – send us your stuff. Cit J/participatory j – some people may say it is the same thing.

    Networked and crowdsourced journalism is about the journalist and the community working together. Which to my mind is what we are always supposed to have done, this is just a way of doing things differently.

    As I said in the first week, you might not be doing some of these things every day – and in some cases you may never do them. But you need to be aware of what is going on around you, we can’t just sit on the phone and pick the stories we want anymore.

    Your reasons for wanting to be a journalist are the same as for many of us, I think the exciting thing is the different opportunities we have of doing exactly what you say. We now have different ways to find people, different ways to tell stories and we may even be involved in helping them to tell theirs – but again it is rooted in what we have always done.

    Traditionalists are being cheated? Only if they don’t look to leverage the best of what is happening around them. But is that the traditionalists who like to find stories and share them, or those that like to stay hidden in the office?


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