"Powerlaws, Weblogs and Inequality." Clay Shirky's Writings About the Internet - Economics & Culture, Media & Community, Open Source. 8 February 2003. .
While the internet does have the potential to give a voice to all who are digitally connected, what purpose does it serve if that voice is never heard or if it is not heard by a robust audience? Shirky speaks about the audience distribution of blogs, with 12% of blogs accounting for 50% of the web trafficing in the webworld. The popular belief that the blog world eliminates hierarchical power structures and systems of inequality is debunked. Shirky's basic argument is "Diversity plus freedom of choice creates inequality, and the greater the diversity, the more extreme the inequality." All blogs can not be equally popular all the time. What's more is that the more popular a blog, the less conversational it becomes as it becomes more difficult to maintain personal relationships with subscribers. Instead of being a conversation forum, it becomes a one-way point of entry into information.Conversational blogs then become the "long tail" of blogs, those blogs with few subscribers that can neatly facilitate interactive experiences between blog subscriber and blogger.
This article begs two questions when discussing citizen journalism (in blog format or website format): 1) should news be conversational #2) does citizen journalism threaten the same discriminatory hierachies that originally catapulted news blogs? In Andrew Keen's book, "Cult of the amateur: how the internet is killing today's culture" he insists that news is not meant to be conversational, objectional reporting is not something to be discussed and weighed in on. Media professionals are meant to act as gatekeepers to newsworthy information, society has entrusted them with this responsibility and such a responsibility is not to be infringed upon by everyone's uinformed and even informed opinions. Centralized power exists to maintain accuracy and order but the internet is based on decentralized power.
Also, if the popularity of news blogs is a result of the mainstream media's abuse of power, do online blogs threaten to recreate these same power structures and consequentially the same abuses? Theories purported by Daniel Drezner and Henry Farrell suggest that this is unlikely. Accroding to Drezner and Farrell, the news blogs often do not just serve as news resources but also as part of a checks and balances system for the mainstream. Therefore, their position in the news world is fostered in relation to the mainstream media's abuse of power.
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Shirky's book discusses the rise of amateurism, covering everything from collective thought and publishing (i.e. Wikepedia) to the ways in which digital technology (i.e. phone and email) has transposed itself into real world law and interactions. In his chapter, "Everyone is a Media Outlet" Shirky discusses the definition of professionalism and how it relates to certain professions. His argument is that the internet has upset the very foundation of certain professions (i.e. photography, journailsm). By definition, professionals do not exist in mass. Not everyone is a professional photographer just because they take a picture, just like not everyone is journalist because they convey information to the public, even if it is newsworthy information. That technology and the internet has provided a platform for the world to access is undeniable but the ways in which the world is now able to access this information (i.e. news blogs, photosharing websites) threatens to revolutionize certain professional systems.
Shirky's chapter is imperative to any discussion of citizen journalism because he differentiates between professionals and non-professionals who perform professional acts such as the blogger who is dedicated to providing the public with accurate newsworthy information but holds no credentials and is not recognized in the journalistic profession. Professionals, in any field, are identified as such not just through the work that they create but through their training, through their peers and through their scarcity. Shirky reframes and takes a step back from the ethical arguments over the responsibilities of citizen journalists to an argument about whether or not they are professionals in the first place and what implications the answer to that question makes. This would seem an insignificant question, but in fact it helps sort through a host of issues. The definition of a professional renders citizen journalists as unprofessional because professionals do not exist in mass, which begs the question of whether or not the citizen journalist can be afforded certain journalistic privileges.
What's more is that the internet has now given the citizen the ability to determine what is newsworthy, to give face to issues that may have previously been ignored by professionals due to financial or editorial restrictions or bring under-the-radar events or public opinion to the forefront, or rather front page of print.