Crapifying Citizen Journalism
Description versus prescription.
Citizen journalism. Originally it meant a natural, grassroots sort of activity: individuals using computers and the Web to write about what was important to them. No editors, no censorship, no traditional methods to be followed. Freedom of expression. The type of thing I do with this blog.
But like any mutation, if it can’t be stamped out or ignored, it must be subsumed.
There’s a newspaper - the Oakland Press in Pontiac, Michigan – offering a course in citizen journalism. [Link] But is it still citizen journalism if the mainstream media is prescribing, not describing, what it is?
The OP wants to train citizens in proper journalism and thus has created The Oakland Press Institute for Citizen Journalism. (Now there’s a distinguished name, eh?) Course graduates will have the opportunity to provide content to the OP, both in print and online.
Fine, but there are problems with this. Real citizen journalism started because “proper journalism” was failing to provide the news that people wanted. Mainstream outlets were gatekeepers, deciding what was publishable.
The Web, especially with blogs, opened up the world to everyday people. Traditional outlets were bypassed.
So let’s say a newspaper does train some “citizen journalists” to be used as a freelance pool. The paper will then have low-pay/no-pay creators to provide content. (Well, maybe seeing your byline is “payment” but that thrill soon wears off.)
It’s a great deal for any newspaper, especially with newspapers in such decline with advertising and readership. Rely on part-timers or volunteers to get free/low cost content. And these content providers – not aware of copyright law and terms like “work for hire” – could end up handing over all rights to their material for a pittance.
Sure, some original writing might get through. But all content has to be vetted by the newspaper. Too “original” and it’ll go in the circular file. The editors still have the power of thumbs up or down on submissions.
That’s isn’t citizen journalism. That’s co-option.
The next step will be colleges teaching CJ courses. Following the newspapers, they will prescribe, not describe, what citizen journalism is.
I'm waiting for the mainstream institutions to codify what “writogging” is.
Of course, accuracy, fairness, and plain old good writing are requirements for any form of expression. But to learn those basics, you don’t need a four-year college degree.
To blog or writog you don’t need a BA or a byline in your local newspaper.
What counts is the feedback from readers, not gatekeepers.