Friday, June 5, 2009


I went to journalism school way back when, when we still used manual typewriters and carbon paper (I swear!). Newsrooms were defined by three things: the sound of the typewriters, the smell of cigarettes and really bad coffee. The journalistic holy trinity. By then, journalism, as a discipline and profession had not really changed much for a very long time. It went kind of like this: Editor would say, “Go to 9th and Elm and cover the fire.” Reporter would grab a tablet and a pencil and rush downtown, talk to people/cops/bystanders/witnesses/victims at the scene, hurry back to his manual typewriter with carbon paper, light up and write up the story. Sometime that night or even the next day the story would appear in the newspaper and the public would gasp and then wait another 24 hours for updates.

Unbelievable, right? Today, if there’s a fire at 9th and Elm, we see it happening live, and not necessarily through the eyes of a professional journalist. Today, your average man/woman on the street might be the conveyer of critical information. It’s called Citizen Journalism, and I may be one of the few professional journalists who truly like it. A lot of my colleagues are very bummed out about Citizen Journalism, tossing about words like “amateur,” “untrained,” and even “dangerous.” I disagree. Technology has made it possible for anybody to communicate anything at any time. What irks the pros in this field is the idea that a guy who never went to journalism school can scoop the professional journalists. Think about it: If you are a Twitterer or a Facebooker and you just happen to be at 9th and Elm when the fire breaks out, you can show and tell the whole world about it way before any editor can dispatch a reporter to the scene. And the reason journalists find this “dangerous” is that they believe you will put too much of a spin on the event, or inject too much perspective, rather than straight, objective reporting.

Newsflash: Every story you have ever read in a newspaper or seen on a broadcast news report has perspective/opinion/spin – call it what you will – already. It is next to impossible for a human being to report anything to anybody without conveying some perspective on the event. So, to the pros, I say, “Chill.” Citizen journalism is a democratic alteration in the social structure of information conveyance that enables all people to contribute to the mix of ideas.

Enter Jason Linkins, a Huffington Post political and media reporter who has been put in charge of a new project called the “Media Monitoring Project.” In a nutshell, the project encourages readers – like you – to monitor television news and information shows that you typically watch, and then report to the Post anything noteworthy. This could include gaffes, highly incendiary content, great in-depth reporting that you would like more people to see, or whatever you think is relevant to spread to the masses. This is citizen journalism at work. And you are invited to participate. I like it. A lot. I want to hear more voices from the crowd out there, and some of you have been itching to get in on the national conversation. Maybe you just didn’t know how.

Right now, this project is innovative. I predict that in short order solicitation of content from viewers/users/listeners/consumers will be the norm, rather than the exception. To date, most of those opportunities have been limited to feedback and comments at the end of a story. Going forward, I have a feeling many of you will be generating ideas for the stories, and ultimately contributing your own stories. It is, in my opinion, the biggest paradigm shift in the journalism business that has ever happened. Naysayers will use the same argument that researchers use when they badmouth Wikipedia, the online “encyclopedia” that allows anybody to contribute anything about anyone or anything. They will say the information may be flawed or inaccurate. Agreed. So, smart consumers will cross reference and check information for accuracy. Consumers will have to do what reporters have been doing since…well, since we used manual typewriters and carbon paper. Oh wait, I forgot…you have already learned that. After all, who among you does not know that news you get from, for example, will be skewed conservative? Or, that news you get from Huffington Post may lean heavily to the left. You have to get your information from more than once source. That’s a given.

So, the moral to this story? Speak up. And do it to a large audience that is increasingly hungry for information. Why should your perspective on current events carry any less weight than the ladies on “The View,” or Oprah or Diane Sawyer or Bill O’Reiley or Geraldo or Brian Williams? It’s like I have always said – everybody has a story. It may just be time for you to tell yours.


Kevin Allman said...

I'm a "professional" journalist and a big booster of what's still being called "citizen journalism" - the lines between the two are increasingly hazy. What I'm not fond of is citizen journalists being rounded up as some sort of volunteer army to line the pockets of Arianna Huffington, Satan's Botoxed Handmaiden, whose paid winged monkeys admit that paying citizen journalists is not part of HuffPo's "financial model."

Of course, people are free to write for HuffPo for free - I don't see the value in it ("exposure" is bullshit), but whatever blows your skirt up.

I'm just glad to see the many people commenting on Jason Linkins' post asking if they're to be paid for providing content for Arianna.

Leigh C. said...

Funny, I was just going to ask if Linkins was paid for his HuffPo contributions...