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Citizen Journalism Overview

Citizen Journalism Overview

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Published by: Editor at Chicagotalks.org on May 01, 2009
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08/01/2013

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Citizen journalism, Citizen media, User-Generated Content, Democracy and Journalism in the21st CenturyThe media ecosystem is as stressed as our natural environment heading toward the seconddecade of the 21st century. "Media climate change" is one way to describe the conditionsfacing communication professionals, journalists, educators, and students.Looking at one part of the new media landscape, citizen journalism, can help us understandtoday's media ecology and the changes taking place in mass media today.Journalism is as old as the first cave painting, but some current issues are tied to the writingand thinking of two men in the 1920s and the technology that existed at that time which couldbe used in mass communication.Walter Lippmann, thirty-something and on the way to establishing his name, clashed withelder statesman, John Dewey, who represented the political philosophy and theories of democracy of an aging generation, perhaps a bit like the "boomers" of the 20th century.Their debate focused on the role of journalism in a democratic society. This is a hot-buttonissue today. The questions they raised remain unsettled today, but new technologies andcommunication possibilities color how we think about the same ideas.<a href="http://mssa.library.yale.edu/findaids/eadHTML/mssa.ms.0326.html">Walter J.Lippmann</a>, argues that the modern world is too complex for the average citizen tounderstand without help. He called for a "journalistic elite" to analyze complex issues facingthe nation, and boil down complexity for the common person. The news is so important to our democracy that only a special, trusted source, the elite journalist, could frame it and presentit to the public -- a passive mass audience of listeners or viewers.<a href="http://dewey.pragmatism.org/">John Dewey</a> counters with the argument thatwhat people know, news included, is hammered out through public participation, discussions,and communication about ideas and events. News is a civic conversation generated by allkinds of people. Being a part of this civic conversation is what it means to be a good citizen.For Dewey, a responsible journalist revealed and reported on issues in order to strengthenand inform the civic conversation. He saw this as the way to keep a democracy healthy.The emergence of broadcasting beginning with radio in the 1920s, provided an effective one-to-many form of mass communication. The radio networks, the central force in mass mediauntil the 1950s and 1960s, were formed in 1927 and brought into being "The Golden Age of Radio" through the 1930s. This medium was suited for delivery of news and informationaccording to Lippmann's model of news.Radio and television which eclipsed it during the 1950s and 1960s as a news medium, offer limited access and minimal or nonexistent audience interaction. The natural result is that thewords of a journalist whose news is heard or seen regularly by a passive, mass audience areviewed as more important than the views of common people.Into the 1970s, the ideal of a good journalist was the sober, well-dressed, well-educated,usually male and white anchor whose presence exuded authority and whose pronouncements
 
were taken as truth received. Edward R. Murrow <ahref=""http://stream.state.gov/streamvol/journals/blackout.mp3"">whose voice</a> came torepresent the American effort in WWII in Europe on radio and broadcasters like Walter Cronkite who moved from radio to television, wielded great influence. These elite journalistsmade the news for the public. When Walter Cronkite, ranked in surveys in the 1970s and 80sas the "most trusted man in America," ended his news broadcasts with the sign-off line, "Andthat’s the way it is..." most people believed it.Dewey held that news is conversation that leads to civic consensus, but there was no mediumin the 1920s that supported many-to-many, interactive communication. Face-to-face town-hallmeetings of the 19th century couldn't scale up as the public needed to confront increasinglycomplex issues and as the population of citizens and voters increased. Citizens had no timenor opportunity to gather in public on a daily basis. The one-to-many, not many-to-many,nature of available mass media meant that access was expensive, closed, and dominated bythose who had the money to pay for air-time.Let's click ahead to the early 21st century. The Internet, and the penetration of high-speedbroadband, provide many-to-many communication media, including Internet and textmessaging. "Being connected" in the developed world today allows inexpensive publicconversation between everyone. Low barriers to access mean that more people have achance to be heard and get their ideas into the global conversation that includes the news inthe 21st century.Though Walter Lippmann successfully promoted his model of the journalist as an elite newsprovider, the model contained the seeds of its own demise. Becoming part of an elite bringswith it pressure to serve those in power. The journalist gets distanced from the public he or she is supposed to serve. This can be seen in the migration of stories about wages andbenefits for workers from the news of the day to business sections, with shift in the point of view of these stories from the public to the business owner or manager today.In 2000, Christopher Locke, Rick Levine, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger putthe Cluetrain Manifesto online http://www.cluetrain.com/book/. It was signed bythousands of people and became the best-selling business book of 2001.Ironically, the entire text was available for free, online. They open the CluetrainManifesto, with these words, "
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through theInternet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge withblinding speed."
Dewey's citizen conversations found a medium of expression with the rise of the immense,immersive, networked communication that is the Internet. As the 20th century opens, thereare tools to talk to each other live, there are forums, there are video-casting tools, there arepodcasts and audio, video and text blogging. These are some of the many-to-maycommunication tools available to everyone from school children to soccer moms to senior citizens. CNN.com featured a summary of the news of 2007 taken exclusively from its
segments.In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Professor Henry Jenkins says"Right now, convergence culture is throwing media into flux, expanding opportunities for grassroots groups to speak back to the mass media." Digital convergence has steadily been
 
reducing the cost and increasing access to electronic publishing, making it possible for anyone to join the "global conversation." The interaction has begun.One way the grassroots are talking back takes the form of "citizen journalism." There isn't atidy definition of citizen journalism, but it encompasses "news" features ranging from theRodney King video, to phonecam photos of celebrities from phonecam video of the Londonbombings, to reports about local government or a community pollution "hot spot" by someonewho isn't a reporter, but is moved to write about an issue. Citizen news ranges from the trivial,to tragic, to timely. Sometimes, the reporters aren't even citizens, as in some <ahref="http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/">global blogs.</a>The evolution of citizen journalism in its current form -- citizens submit stories to editors whorank and publish the stories online -- begins in Seoul, Korea, and extends to hundreds of placeblogs, and to major news organizations across the globe, from the BBC to CNN to NBC.The South Korean online newspaper "Ohmynews" went live in February of 2002. Founded by journalist Oh Yeon Ho, < a href="http://english.ohmynews.com">Ohmynews.com</a> was thefirst news website to use an open source form of reporting, accepting, editing and publishingarticles submitted by readers, as well as stories from professional journalists. About 20% of the site's content is written by the 55-person staff while the majority of articles are written byother freelance contributors who are mostly ordinary citizens.OhmyNews.com won recognition as a major source of news with the December 2002 electionof Roh Moo Hyun as President of South Korea. The new president gave his first interview asan exclusive, to Ohmynews.com. Since then, Ohmynews has spun off a print version of itsKorean online content, an English version featuring international news, and opened a schoolfor citizen journalists in 2007. The Citizen Media Forums it sponsors every year continue to bevery influential around the world in the area of citizen media.In the U.S., after 2001,<a href="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/media/july-dec05/citizen_11-16.html#">citizen journalist sites</a> like the Deerfield Forum, Wikinews.org, andMyMissourian.com began experimenting and publishing different mixes of local news writtenby citizens or for them in a host of different ways. <a href="http://www.j-newvoices.org/">NewVoices</a>, an incubator for pioneering community news ventures that helps fund the start-upof innovative micro-local news projects keeps track of many citizen journalism publicationsoperating today.As the number of households with high speed broadband has reached and exceeded 50%,the production of user-generated content or UGC, including citizen journalism as well asentertainment and all kinds of other content, has become a major force in the mediaenvironment. Mainstream media has stopped ignoring citizen journalism and UGC and begunto incorporate forms of citizen journalism into its media mix. It is estimated that one quarter of the content shared via Internet will be added to, remixed, mashed up, and otherwiseproduced by viewer/audiences by 2013.Returning to Lippmann and Dewey, it is interesting to see that the powerful, all-knowing,authoritative news anchor, the elite journalist, is competing for "eyeballs" and viewers'attention with a variety of many-to-many, interactive niche media in the early 21st century.Lippmann's vision of the elite expert is giving way to Dewey's more interactive and

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