Citizen journalism was designed to supplement and serve as a partner to mainstream news. With the insight of citizens on the ground in local areas, the public would be served at the grassroots, where live information is helpful, but has it met that purpose?
Some citizen news sites seek to replace mainstream news, by practice or intent. Anyone can write on these sites. One need meet no criteria for knowledge of history, government, science or journalism methods. Research, however, tells us that more available news has not meant a more informed public. Part of that might be that folks lose respect when they sift through citizen data that give opinions not facts or factual information slanted to orient folks towards a particular point of view on a topic. Often that’s politics too.
Does the mainstream news fail in its purpose? Journalists agree that it does. Some mainstream news stations reported Gabrielle Gifford had died during the Tucson shooting, which hurt the family, the larger community, and the media itself. In the rush to be first with the news, national media makes major errors and undermines trust that they need. But that isn’t the sum cause of its failures.
Part of the collapse of the media, and the information and education it was historically designed to produce, has to do with the nationally-oriented, opinion-type and agenda-driven material from citizen journalists who are required to have no background at all. The assumption is “everyone has the right,” but some readers might not know the difference at first and make errors of judgment as a result. Journalism’s requirements are set aside as if they are without value. Would we do the same with our teachers, our lawyers, our doctors and other professions as well? On the other hand, the site with some agenda-driven writers also have citizens who write local news and do it well. It is one of those places that struggles with its identity, even as the media itself is trying to find its footing in the world of the new journalism.
Society regulates certain professions in order to build trust in institutions, like education, medicine and the law. Without that structure, the assumption is that errors can cause public hurt.
The value of citizen journalism is how it provides people with information from original source material. When that purpose is replaced with agenda-driven, nationally-oriented material it detracts from true citizen stories, as it undermines trust in the news.
While some citizen sites foster poor representation of citizen journalism, there are Internet sites that satisfy its intent in successful, informative ways. Yahoo Contributor Network requires its featured contributors to provide structure, documentation, editing and the background required to write news in specialized areas. The National Examiner does citizen reporting for cities and has background requirements for people to write on specialized topics. Our Heritage Chronicle covers news of small towns where it counts. This direction for citizen journalism seeks not to replace mainstream news, but instead finds its original purpose, to give information from those involved directly, in the places decisions are made.
Gifford’s husband grieved after false reports of her death
Crime and Courts/MSNBC.com
New revelation rekindles controversy
Associated Content for Yahoo! Featured Contributor Program
Yahoo Contributor Network
Panel event discusses ’emotional intelligence’ for businesses
What’s An Examiner?
The National Examiner
Our Heritage Chronicle