July 10, 2005

Shark Bites Citizen Journalism

Stick a fork in it. "Citizen Journalism," as the moniker describing John and Jane Q's ability to create their own media, is done. The shark has been jumped.

I was at the gym this afternoon trying to reverse the effects of a late night of Dewars and dancing at the local rock n' roll saloon, done to the tunes of a Stones tribute band (love the wigs, lads!) and all in a celebration of a good pal's 40th birthday, when one of the TV screens hanging above the treadmills filled with the words, in all caps, CITIZEN JOURNALISM. CNN was asking viewers to email in photos and videos of Hurricane Dennis. (Here's a spot on CNN's web site asking for the same thing without the "citizen journalism" phrase.

The CNN hurricane coverage producers clearly read all the stories generated after the London bombings about citizen journalism and it's a must-have component for all big stories henceforth.

(There were almost as many stories about citizen journalism after the bombings as there were stories about potential backlash against Muslims, most inspired by the spate of cell-phone camera photos from the damage subway tubes. Here's the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, the Age (Melbourne), the San Francisco Chronicle, etc. I wrote about it, too. [Read: London Bombings: The Unread Newspaper.]

"Citizen journalism" as a concept is still being defined. At its base, though, are the acts of participation in coverage and creation of media. On a higher level, it involves a new definition of news and a realignment of the relationship between reporter and community.

The victims of terrorism in the London underground became reporters when they felt compelled to capture the scene that surrounded them and communicate with those outside of it. No one needed to suggest that they do it. The urgency of the moment and the capability of the technology combined to make it happen. It was an inevitable collision.

What happened in London was reporting. I learn something. I tell it to you. It's also empowering because those bloodied and soot-blackened commuters took control of some of coverage by creating it themselves. As I said the other day: Terrorism made them victims; technology made them reporters.

I'm pretty sure what "citizen journalism" is not is CNN soliciting photographs from viewers and then putting a few of them on its web site. It's more like the visual equivalent of the man-on-the-street story. Maybe what CNN is doing should be called "postcard journalism." Am I being too cynical?

"Oh, when the shark bites with his teeth, dear "

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Posted by Tim Porter at July 10, 2005 07:57 PM

If the "man in the street" types are "citizen" journalists, what are the others? Would they consider themselves something more exalted than mere citizens?

Posted by: Jan Bear on July 10, 2005 07:54 PM

You still dance? That's awesome! If only my husband could be so inspired.

Posted by: Gpan on July 11, 2005 10:18 AM

strangely enough Jan you have a point there. as an ex-journalist i can tell you we used to refer to non-journos as "civilians" - in a jokey kind of way - and we were just a tech journal...

not exalted - but hopefully professional

Posted by: james governor on July 12, 2005 04:28 AM

Why is it that when someone coins a term - like 'citizen journalism' that almost immediately there's a call for a definition. Sounds a lot like Gartner to me.

Posted by: Dennis Howlett on July 12, 2005 11:30 PM

I feel safe in saying that whatever the "professional media" refers to as citizen journalism probably isn't.

Posted by: mark on July 16, 2005 08:04 AM

I am uncomfortable with calling either the London bombing victims or the CNN contributors "citizen journalists." What defines journalism (to me) isn't simply taking photos or writing stories, but having the intention to communicate with an audience from the conception the information gathering.

Just because you snap a photo doesn't make it journalism (or does it?). Anyway, the thing I really wanted to comment on is the fact that you seem to have a double standard it's citizen journalism when it's largely hosted on individual blogs and file-sharing communities like Flickr, but it's not when it's sponsored by a corporation like CNN. I think the anti-establishment culture of blogs/"citizen journalism" is going to be the death of those movements, because after all where are blogs without the MSM to link to? You seem to hint at it a little in your post, but I think the future of this movement is partnering with MSM. Neither is complete or possible without the participation of the other.

Posted by: Brendan on July 17, 2005 02:29 PM
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