This 15 minute documentary produced by the Cambrige Community Television is the result of their 3 month documentary production course. In it, various leaders citizen journalists who have created their own websites as well as academic scholars from Harvard University and members of the CCT are interviewed to offer their perspectives on citizen journalism. the medium through which citizen journalism is being exercised is new but the documentary puts into perspective how actual citizen journalism is nothing new, citing Tom Payne's 18th century pamphlet "Common Sense." The layman's struggle to have their voice heard after been refused access to the mainstream market is nothing new.
In the beginning sequence we see a computer screen and hear commentary on citizen journalism from different unknown people. One of those voices says that a citizen journalist was recently arrested which suggests that very real world and dire consequences are being imposed on people who are not necessarily protected by journalistic rights but who are perhaps persecuted and judged by a heavier hand than traditional journalists. Citizen journalism takes on a guerrilla aspect in this film, returning the power to the people and allowing them to reflect on what's happening to them rather than being acted upon, and refocusing citizen journalism from part of the media machine to part of the academic world where blogs act as tools of education.
In this documentary citizen journalism is discussed in a way that does not atempt to compare it to mainstream journalism, the bloggers should not offer unbiased commentary like we expect mainstream media to do, instead it is their duty to "stand on a soap box" and counteract the industry machine. Citizen Journalism is part of a revolutionary movement that struggles to put the power of the people back in their own hands but is this really journalism or a merely sensational tool of empowerment for the public? Can it be both?
Beers, David. "The Public Sphere and Online, Independent Journalism." Canadian Journal of Education/ Revue canadienne de l'education. 29 (1): 109-130
Beers, the founder of The Tyee, a civic journalism website discusses civic journalism as a tool in education that will fulfill Habermas's ideal of the public sphere, a place where public debate can take place. Beers asserts that media should act as a transparent informant where debate is fostered, rather than a tool of manipulation of those who take part in the public sphere. Beers discusses cross ownership in the Canadian markets and says that homogenized content is not only the result of fewer voices creating more content but also a result of advertisers manipulation of the market to suit their wants and needs. Having a subjective perspective on a story is not problematic, as most media outlets have an agenda, citizen journalism included. The problem is when there is only one agenda being pushed. Beers identifies two types of alternative news, those who exist in context of media conglomerates, whose purpose is to counter the corporate media consensus. And then there are those alternative media sites who exist to serve a niche and/or marginalized market. Beers goes on to outline three types of alternative news media: 1) E-zine news media; 2) the blogosphere; 3) open publishing sites. He also goes onto to explain the challenges that these alternative media forums face such as establishing creditiblity, an audience and gathering resources.
Beers paper is relevant in my discussion of citizen journalism in how he separates the different types of sites. The structure of a blog can have different consequences and render a different audience than an opening publishing site. It can also complicate the ethical arguments surrounding citizen journalism: what are the responsibilities of a citizen journalist if any and who is responsible in the case of misinformation? Many of Beers claims of cross ownership and homogenized content in Canada reflect the circumstances of the United States of America presented in Klinenberg's book, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media. The similarities are striking and help show the gravity of the situation as well at he internationality of it.
Drezner, Daniel W. & Farrell, Henry. "Web of Influence". Foreign Policy 145 (2004): 32-40
Drenzel and Henry focus on the power of the blog medium for citizen journalism. Blogs are increasingly acting as catalysts for the mainstream media content. As many other articles have cited, the blog world's attention to Trent Lott's racist commentary is what forced the mainstream media to take notice and provide coverage. Blogging has become so popular now that even mainstream media sources are employing professional bloggers which may be a bit oxymoronic. Drezner and Farrell express concern over these professional mainstream bloggers overpowering the independent bloggers, suggesting that blogging is something that should belong to the people, not the professional. Blogging is positioned as an adjunct to transnational networking, allowing foreign news to spread fast and far. With the decrease in international press coverage (especially in the USA), blogs written by foreigners help keep the international community connected.
In some cases, bloggers even have an advantage in matters of international coverage. Drezner and Farrell give North Korea as an example, saying that journalists are not allowed entry and when permitted entry are watched closely. A citizen of NK (although blog sites have been censored) or even a non North Korean's ability to enter and comment on the conditions of the state is essential in international news coverage, especially coverage of a state that does not allow foreign press. Countries like Iran, North Korea and China exercise web censorship to prevent their citizens from accessing foreign blogs or creating their own blogs but there are always ways around these things. The point being that established and familiar news sources are easily blocked but blogging and the internet itself creates a useful alternative.
What i think is most interesting is that Drezner and Farrell position blogs as a watchdog for mainstream media, in opposition to omission of information or misinformation. In addition to being an independent news source, blogs are really presented as a part of the whole field of journalism, participating in a sort of checks and balances. If this is a major role that blogs are expected to occupy, the move of traditional media sources into the blogosphere, potentially displacing independent bloggers, would elimininate those checks and balances which could have dangerous repercussions.
"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.
Call#: Van Pelt Library HM851 .S5465 2008
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.