Sunday, August 13, 2006

Citizen journalism vs. Traditional media

There's an interesting story in this week's New Yorker about "citizen journalism."

Nicholas Lemann basically defends traditional media from what he boils down to puffed-up rhetoric about the threat of bloggers and online "journalism without journalists."

(He defines citizen journalism as Web sites that publish contributions by people who don't have jobs in news organizations but are performing similar jobs. He also sites a Pew study that showed that there are 12 million bloggers in the U.S., 34 percent of whom consider blogging to be a form of journalism. That would mean, Lemann points out, that there are now 4 million new journalists so the profession must have increased thousand-fold in no time.)

In looking at the affect of citizen journalism and bloggers (which I think are distinct, but he seems to lump them together here), he took a historical approach, siting how traditional media have been challenged in the past. In the end, the result has always been a more balanced approach to news-gathering.

Such is his argument about what many are seeing as a threat to journalism as we know it. He noted that it serves a purpose - compiling several news sources into a single spot, providing details and anecdotes from the scene (i.e. all the Internet accounts from New Orleans during Katrina), and of course a forum for opinion and debate. But it's still the more traditional journalists that are publishing the day to day accurate accounts of world events.

He contends that journalists still have a place here (phew!).

"The Internet is not unfriendly to reporting; potentially it is the best reporting medium ever invented. ... To keep pushing in that direction, though, requires that we hold up original reporting as a virtue and use the Internet to find new ways of presenting fresh material - which, inescapably, will wind up being produced by people who do that full time, not "citizens" with day jobs.

For the most part, I agree with Lemann, but caution that he is shaking off the affect of bloggers and citizen journalism on traditional media. OK, so there is a place for reporters, but we can't so quickly dismiss how much blogs and people taking the role of reporters has forced media to reexamine itself. And that reexamination is necessary, and should continue. The new media should push the status quo, so that tradition media doesn't, for example, kowtow to the government or get lazy or just gray and fizzle out.

Anyway, my book report aside, I thought it was story worth reading.

In a somewhat related idea, I cover a local county for the my newspaper, and it turns out there are four blogs dedicated to this county. From the upcoming elections, to zoning issues to wildlife-spotting, this group of bloggers is interested in all things County. I thought it to be kind of strange that someone would care enough to write about what they are reading in the news, their opinions, and generally what they are seeing in their day to day live in suburban Maryland. But I do go to the blogs often to see what people are talking about and what I might be missing.


At 8:25 AM, Blogger Lights said...

Followup from the last post - here's the Lewis Black bit:

Did the book discuss at all the audience of bloggers? I think its still a distinct subset of the population, even if it is growing all the time. That must have some effect on the role of internet journalism.

At 9:09 AM, Blogger Sara said...

That's a good question - there wasn't any discussion on the audience really. And you're right. I guess it is still a distinct population, rather than those who consume main stream media.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger AG said...

I suspect that the audience isn't that distinct anymore. I would bet that a good portion of those under a certain age also read a blog or two (or some kind of online message board) to supplement their newspapers and tv. SM, your community bloggers are a good example. Anybody that reads those things most certainly reads all the local papers too.

I'm also rapidly losing my handle on what the hell the "mainstream" media means at all.

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Max said...

AG, that's a great point. These distinctions between mainstream and not mainstream are pretty annoying and they mostly serve to alienate journalists from the public.

I think Lemann makes some good points in defense of the importance of journalism, but he betrays his old school ways and even his snobbery by picking apart the postings of bloggers in his column. A better point of view, I think, is to acknowledge the fact that the ability of the general public to use the Internet to practice its First Amendment right is a very good thing for journalism and probably society, too.

Some supplementary links: Lemann is cutting back online at the CJR so he can focus more on selling subscriptions to the print product. Yikes.

Jeff Jarvis, whose blog Lemann quotes in his piece, and who is a well-known blogger, journalism professor, and former print journalist responds.

"Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism (So Can We Stop Talking About Them Now?)" inspired by the Lemann piece.

At 7:29 AM, Blogger Frosty said...

Here's an excerpt from an email sent to me by a media bystander -- someone who's not so "connected" to the cause and insider jargon we hear at the office. This email is from a late 20s male in his third year of law school (who, also, is very in-tune with politics, public policy and current events):

"I only resort to blogs to provide additional information, usually of an editorial nature, about an issue I have read about in the mainstream media. While blogs have broken stories about arguably major issues, the maintstream media online has always responded quickly enough for my needs.

In a broader context, blogs are often discussed among my classmates, but almost all of us have read about the issue in the maintstream media first.

Blogs probably pressure the mainstream media into improving theironline presence and perhaps their response time. I believe that this will be a good thing overall though I worry about the mainstream media rushing to respond without fully researching the story. I am concerned about the fact that blogs often lack editorial control. The economic incentive the mainstream media has to ensure that stories are accurate is also missing from most blogs.

I do think that blogs have changed the perception of the mainstream media. I know that people have started to question the speed of the mainstream media to report important stories. In addition, there is a feeling that blogs can report on stories that the mainstream media can't or won't address. These perceptions may be accurate, but they will certainly
put pressure on the mainstream media."

Just thought an outsider opinion might be needed here for balance and perspective.

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