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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology
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Skepticism · agriculture · politics · technology

Citizen journalism

| Posted on in politics, skepticism

My friend Carl Carter, over at overcoffeemedia.com, wrote yesterday that citizen journalism is a myth. Writing correctly that journalism is hard work, he points out the expense and overhead inherent to the filtering that permeates modern professional journalism. This filtration, he and others reason, is the reason consumers prefer to source their news from professional entities.

I think we must distinguish between the raw news and the editorializing that has woven itself into the way many modern news organizations distribute their news. I think it is actually the later that consumers prefer to acquire from the pros. The raw news is provided to us in a barrage of disparate sources throughout the day. Whether we get the headlines from Twitter or scanning aggregators like Google News or social news sources like Digg, we already know what happened.

When we get home at the end of the day, we don’t want to hear the same headlines about which we already know. We want to know why it happened and how it may affect us. The reason we turn to the professional journalists is for the back story.

Unfortunately, this trend of wanting not the facts but to know what the facts mean has relegated the truly professional journalists to the margin. Mainstream consumers are turning instead to organizations who will slant news depending on their preferred bias. CNN is experiencing very poor ratings because they are trying to be professional journalists. They’re getting crushed by Fox News – and have actually fallen behind MSNBC in primetime – because they won’t filter their content to cater to one side or the other. Whether Fox News is a source of journalism (it isn’t) or really just a lifestyle channel promoting a conservative ideal is another discussion.

True citizen journalism may be a myth, but for those of us connected enough to hear about most events as they happen, professional journalism needs to provide us with the why and not so much the what.

  • Carl Carter

    Way back in the 1950s, Journalism professor Curtis McDougall shook things up with his book, Interpretative Reporting, which was actually one of my J-School textbooks. His thesis was that it is the reporter's job to report the facts in a context that makes them meaningful. This, of course, does involve the reporter in the story as an interpreter who is also involved in the process of weeding out sources who are saying stuff the reporter knows to be wrong. The problem you're correctly describing is that too many reporters today — especially broadcast — are failing to do that, which leads to the “dueling quotes” syndrome that only appears to be balanced but actually is an abdication of the reporter's responsibility, IMO.

    Agenda-oriented journalism is a tradition that goes back to Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, and you are correct in pointing out that in many cases sites and sources like MSNBC, Huffington Post, Salon, and even Fox often do a better job in helping us understand what the facts are about.

    A great example in the news currently is that the media continue to report that the Deepwater Horizon oil leak is 5,000 barrels a day, when that number has been thoroughly discredited by scientists who are telling us that it's at least four or five times that. Yet, as recently as yesterday, they were letting the BP spokesman get away with implying that they've made a big dent in the problem by reducing 1,000 barrels a day. That may sound great if the leak's 5,000, but not so great if it's 20,000.

  • But let us keep a place for the what as well as the why. The collapse of “journalism” into the why is a collapse of morale by journalists. Journalists can go to the world, grasp it and tell the rest of the world the what. For what is selected and is rejected is part of the why. More investigative journalism, please. Journalists are “reporting” too much after the event, telling us all why, and not finding out before it hits us. See the dredit crunch: journalists produce yards of the why, now, and inches, if anything of the what before.

  • Carl Carter

    Way back in the 1950s, Journalism professor Curtis McDougall shook things up with his book, Interpretative Reporting, which was actually one of my J-School textbooks. His thesis was that it is the reporter's job to report the facts in a context that makes them meaningful. This, of course, does involve the reporter in the story as an interpreter who is also involved in the process of weeding out sources who are saying stuff the reporter knows to be wrong. The problem you're correctly describing is that too many reporters today — especially broadcast — are failing to do that, which leads to the “dueling quotes” syndrome that only appears to be balanced but actually is an abdication of the reporter's responsibility, IMO.

    Agenda-oriented journalism is a tradition that goes back to Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, and you are correct in pointing out that in many cases sites and sources like MSNBC, Huffington Post, Salon, and even Fox often do a better job in helping us understand what the facts are about.

    A great example in the news currently is that the media continue to report that the Deepwater Horizon oil leak is 5,000 barrels a day, when that number has been thoroughly discredited by scientists who are telling us that it's at least four or five times that. Yet, as recently as yesterday, they were letting the BP spokesman get away with implying that they've made a big dent in the problem by reducing 1,000 barrels a day. That may sound great if the leak's 5,000, but not so great if it's 20,000.

  • But let us keep a place for the what as well as the why. The collapse of “journalism” into the why is a collapse of morale by journalists. Journalists can go to the world, grasp it and tell the rest of the world the what. For what is selected and is rejected is part of the why. More investigative journalism, please. Journalists are “reporting” too much after the event, telling us all why, and not finding out before it hits us. See the dredit crunch: journalists produce yards of the why, now, and inches, if anything of the what before.