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Ask an Expert About the Future of 'Citizen Journalism' 97

Posted by Roblimo
from the mainstream-media-is-quaking-in-its-boots dept.
People ranging from Doc Searls to J.D. Lasica to Dan Gillmor to Craig Newmark have talked about how "citizen journalism" is supplanting and/or augmenting professional reporting. (FYI: One of the groundbreaking moments in "citizen journalism" happened right here on Slashdot.) This week's interviewee, NYU professor Jay Rosen, is not only a long-time proponent of civic journalism, but has now started NewAssignment.net with seed money from Craig Newmark, a $10,000 grant from the Sunlight Foundation and, last week, $100,000 from Reuters. Jay Rosen is obviously not just an academic or theoretician, but is actually doing things, which means he can answer almost any question you may have about citizen (or civic) journalism. Usual Slashdot interview rules apply.


Here are some links to articles you may want to read before you post your question(s), if only to avoid duplication:

Web Users Open the Gates
By Jay Rosen
washingtonpost.com
Monday, June 19, 2006

'Blogosphere' spurs government oversight
By Richard Wolf
usatoday.com
September 11, 2006

Open Source Journalism
By Richard Poynder
poynder.blogspot.com
March 28, 2006

Who killed the newspaper?
The Economist
August 24, 2006

AMATEUR HOUR -Journalism without journalists.
by Nicholas Lemann
The New Yorker
July 31, 2006

U.S. Government Should be Focus of Investigative Reports
by Mark Glaser
PBS.org/mediashift
September 7, 2006

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Ask an Expert About the Future of 'Citizen Journalism'

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  • by Phantom of the Opera (1867) on Monday September 25, 2006 @12:49PM (#16186965) Homepage
    Is it possible to be an effective anonymous journalist? I ask because of events like the HP scandal (HP had journalists investigated) and the jailing of Josh Wolf http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2 006/08/01/MNGVQK97AK4.DTL [sfgate.com].
  • I am convinced that online media have made a huge contribution to getting out the truth when the corporate media are seeking to suppress the truth. While there are a growing number of people aware of this phenomenon, reports in the 'blogosphere' just do not get the same respect and currency received by reports in the 'major' or 'corporate' media. What do we, as a community, need to do to enhance the respect internet journalists receive in the world at large?
    • by Bob_Villa (926342) on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:04PM (#16187177)
      Get hired by the corporate media?

      Seriously, when I think about an internet journalist (blogger) I think about someone who is sitting at home, doesn't go out and look for stories but just looks them up online and posts whatever he/she finds with their own added (probably made up) info. They probably wanted to be a real journalist but couldn't get hired. The truth can hurt, you know.

      When you think about a journalist for the New York Times, or Washington Post, etc... you think of people who go out, find the story, interview important people, meet with sources in dark alleys or secluded areas. Maybe I'm wrong to think that way, but how credible do you think you are on your couch, half-naked in front of your computer?

      Now, how do you change that? I'd like to see you at the press conference, jockeying with the other people trying to get Bush or whoever to answer your questions. Or I'd like to see you downtown during the protest, filming it and interviewing people about why they are protesting. Get the idea? Maybe some of you do that, but I sure don't think so when I think of internet journalists.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        >When you think about a journalist for the New York Times, or Washington Post, etc... you think of people who go out, find the story, interview important people, meet with sources in dark alleys or secluded areas. Maybe I'm wrong to think that way

        Thirty years ago you would have been right. Journalists used to be taught "legwork", going out and getting a story.

        Today's mainstream journalists show video from "photo opportunities" and report "he said/he said". They sit in the Green Zone and send home reports
        • by Bob_Villa (926342)
          But you know, I'd like to see that. I'd love to see these citizen journalists go out there, doing real journalism and competing with the big boys. I'd love to see them invading the press boxes, asking the tough questions and getting thrown out when nobody else will ask. That is how things change, when people get the balls to take a chance, do something they aren't supposed to, step outside the box and make the others think for a second about why they became journalists in the first place.

          It makes me
      • I think that one of the problems that bloggers have is that they try to be more than they are. As you said, many bloggers, who think of thenselves as journalists, are nothing more than parrots. Some like to comment on things that they have no real depth of understanding in

        It is th eones that like to comment on thisge at they have no depth of understanding in that polute the entire blog concept. They create the ompression that the entire blog phenomin is nothing more than ignorant people spouting off. They

        • by Bob_Villa (926342)
          I like your answer, they should put a disclaimer on their blogs: "I am not a journalist, I do not go outside, my only source is cnn or reuters".

          I'd check out your blog but my company blocks myspace due to mature content? *sigh* I'd like to see an example where somebody makes a little effort.
          • I suspect that you may be disapointed. It is a journal about my experinces in coming to, And working in, China. The key point is that they are my experinces; not some rehash of someone elses. As such, I feel emiently qualified to comment on them.
    • by goombah99 (560566)
      Lately there's been a few incidents of Plagiarism in the news, not to mention some wholesale ethical breaches of faked stories (e.g. Blair at the NY times and "a million Little pieces"). But the thing is the reason those are news is that they are both exceptional and something that is specifically drummed in to any professional journalist not to do. Indeed breaking this taboo is probably even more of a sin to the the fellow journalists than to the general public because of this entrenched ethic. Yet we know
      • Can't you have useful journalism if the two are mixed?

        The Economist wears their bias on their sleeve and will write articles about the EU agricultural policies that slip in the word "lunatic". They also send out reporters to the places they cover and resist government pressure. Sometimes they're even accurate on subjects I know about, a rare thing indeed.

        The US court system trusts a refereed argument between two biased advocates to dig up the truth. If bias is disclosed and reporting is honest, then you can
        • That's just what the NY times is doing. Sure you can intersperse news and commentary, but they are being scrupulous to label it clearly as containing commentary. It's not the same as straight Journalism. People reading the economis, or listening to Rush Limbaugh know and expect this. People reading less well defined venues don't know this. That's the challenge for blog journalism, because the distinction matters a great deal.
          • There is a difference between bias and deception. If a news source reports news that is favorable to one side of a debate that is bias. If you just plain make crap up, that is deception. Although the NY Times is arguably biased they do have fact checkers and generally strive to get their stories right.

            Rush on the other hand frames his "facts and statistics" with assurances he is telling the truth (pretty much identifying the crap he has pulled from his fat ass).

    • I am convinced that online media have made a huge contribution to getting out the truth when the corporate media are seeking to suppress the truth.

      Much of the online media is corporate ;-) But there are very good sites [zmag.org] for with very good articles from authors interested in truth rather than not offending advertisers.

    • On first glance the problem looks to be credibility. We are more inclined to think of things we see on the net as fake compared to traditional media outlets, because admittedly there is far more fake stuff floating around on the net (and don't forget astroturfing etc.). Though the 'old media' can be very deceptive and even outright lie to it's viewers/readers they juice it up with a little truth here and there to not lose the credibility of their pliable crowd.

      The fact is (unless you live in a country th
    • by AEton (654737)
      As a New York county lawyer, you've doubtless heard of William Glaberson's "Broken Bench" series for the Times (part one [nytimes.com]), part two [nytimes.com], username/password "cyberpunks" if you need one).

      At least five dozen sources were contacted, and probably hundreds more; this series has been maybe a year in the making.

      Do you think that citizen journalists, working alone with little "journalism school experience" and presumably holding down some other job, can produce similarly well-researched articles?
  • by Chas (5144) on Monday September 25, 2006 @12:49PM (#16186979) Homepage Journal
    What sort of safeguards are in place to do fact-checking and prevent false/obviously slanted mob-rule style reports from being propagated as fact?
    • by StressGuy (472374)
      I don't know, perhaps we should ask the fine folks over at the Fox News Network ...gotta go now...

    • by Anonymous Coward
      What sort of safeguards are in place to do fact-checking and prevent false/obviously slanted, fascistic style reports from being propagated as fact?
    • by lawpoop (604919)
      One of the safeguards inherent in the system is to scoop a fellow 'internet reporter' and destroy their story. If you can show that someone else's report is dmeonstrably false, that improves your credibility, and tells readers that they need to come to *you* in order to get the accurate story. If you want a bigger audience, debunk other's stories, and tell good, solid stories yourself.
    • by corbettw (214229)
      What sort of safeguards are in place to do fact-checking and prevent false/obviously slanted mob-rule style reports from being propagated as fact?

      Considering that Reuters is one of the players involved, I'd say the answer is "None." [littlegreenfootballs.com]
      • by daniil (775990)
        I think what we're dealing here with is a misconception (a pretty common one, I might add) of what a photo is. The misconception is that a photo can somehow magically reproduce something the way it is, while in reality, all photos are staged to some extent, even the ones were "lucky shots" (you'll still have to frame them, etc). Press photos are doubly so. A press photographer has to take interesting photos. The photos have to be interesting because if they aren't, noone will buy them. These photos also hav
    • by quantaman (517394)
      What sort of safeguards are in place to do fact-checking and prevent false/obviously slanted mob-rule style reports from being propagated as fact?

      The same as there are with current journalism, the rest of the mob.

      Every time I watch the news or read a news report and I watch a report of event X in country Y I have to wonder how accurate a picture I'm getting. For the basic facts it's easy to look up a few different sources on google news, but to get an interpretation that isn't misleading me in some way seem
  • Would I still be entitled to my First Admendment right for writing an article that a certain administration should be subject to for war crimes concerning Iraq? Or would I be hauled off to jail as a terrorist?
    • You'd be escorted to a sunny, tropical, government run facility in the south Atlantic to answer a few simple questions. In exchange, you'll have the opportunity to be "debriefed" on some of the incorrect information you may have received from terrorist sympathizer living among us.

      Just a tip...when they ask, go with the "two scoop" lobotomy.
  • by Stick_Fig (740331) on Monday September 25, 2006 @12:51PM (#16186997) Homepage
    First off, my credentials: I'm the former employee of an experimental newspaper, Bluffton Today (http://www.blufftontoday.com), located in Bluffton, South Carolina. It's an exciting place, let me tell you. The focus has been on reverse publishing but at the same time tempering blogs with traditional journalism. The staff still writes articles; they still edit heavily. They use the web only to the degree where it doesn't dip into libel and slander and builds on its strengths. My question to you is, do you think Bluffton is on the right track? It felt like, in the 15 months I was there, they definitely were, but I'm a biased party. I left thinking, "If only newspapers did more of this..." I know what I'm betting the farm on in my career, and it isn't tired, boring, traditional journalism. It isn't the straight and narrow of blogs, either. Rather, I feel that it's important to look at both sides and find how they can work together, because God knows there's some 60-year-old editor somewhere who won't look at Bluffton as anything more than a gimmick. I'm gonna be that guy in the newsroom fighting the good fight to get more untraditional voices into the the paper in more places than the editorial page.
    • There is no such thing as an untraditional voice, just temporarily unconventional sources of information and streams of publication. If you want to call your column a blog, or vice versa, do it. Use a different style if it suits your (and your editor). By all means, publish electronically if you can get money for it. Just don't call yourselves innovative and believe it.
  • Money (Score:3, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Monday September 25, 2006 @12:55PM (#16187049) Homepage Journal
    Do you believe that as money flows into civic journalism that it'll change the equation? Obviously there are some people who's primary goal is to become famous and/or make money through more open journalism. Will the large community of contributors flush out those with less altruistic intentions? I guess I'm really asking will civic journalism be self-correcting as it gets bigger? Or is there a way it may become just as corrupted as much of the current mainstream professional journalism?
    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Obviously there are some people who's primary goal is to become famous and/or make money through more open journalism. Will the large community of contributors flush out those with less altruistic intentions?

      Is there any reasons why being ambition from reporters -- hungry for recognition or a good career -- leads to poor journalism? I would think this would be a key intention to tap into. While the current institutions don't do this well, it seems to me that the future of the press rests on whether or not a

  • would this type of public journalism lend itself to much better monitoring of our government? if the books were all wide open for easier electronic review, maybe we could spot waste and fraud easier?
  • When citizen journalists can report without overwhelming bias and with their FACTS CHECKED, then we will have something. For now, every CJ story should be considered fiction until verified.

    And yes I DO know that this goes for the mainstream media as well, but twice as much for CJ.
  • by crush (19364) on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:09PM (#16187245)
    I'm assuming that you evaluated and rejected some of the other high-profile citizen journalism outfits that predate the founding of your own project. Off my head I can think of:
    • The Indymedia [indymedia.org] network is one of the longest standing examples of an attempt to have a large citizen journalist network.
    • The Pacifica Network [pacifica.org] (especially the Democracy Now show
    • The New Standard [newstandardnews.net]
    What was it that you found lacking in the above and why did you decide to start a new project instead of reforming and adapting one of the above? Do you think that your decision to accept corporate sponsorship (which is rejected by the Pacifica Network) will see your organization's focus inevitably drift toward the anodyne ineffectiveness of e.g. NPR?
    • by crush (19364)
      And of course, how could I forget WikiNews [wikinews.org] ?
  • I notice that there seem to be some members who are not aware that this is a call for interview questions, and are answering the questions, or making comments.

    This is part of the interview process, and is for folks to submit questions to Prof. Jay Rosen, and for the moderators to moderate the questions. Thanks.

    • Note: Slashdot editors, despite all the negative comments about them, are able to distinguish between comments and questions. They will only foward questions, and they will foward them regardless of whether or not they were answered by a comment.
  • by goombah99 (560566) on Monday September 25, 2006 @01:14PM (#16187299)
    Lately there's been a few incidents of Plagiarism in the news, not to mention some wholesale ethical breaches of faked stories (e.g. Blair at the NY times and "a million Little pieces"). But the thing is the reason those are news is that they are both exceptional and something that is specifically drummed in to any professional journalist not to do. In deed breaking this taboo is probably even more of a sin to the the fellow journalists than to the general public because of this entrenched ethic.

    Yet we know that on college campuses, where we can measure the phenomena, Plagiarism is comparatively rampant. So evidently the common man cannot restrain himself.

    It seems to me this is a serious issue for any new journlism form with a low barrier to entry and a high degree of anonimity for the author. How does this ethos get enforced in such a realm?

    A related question is the ethic division of commentary and news. We know that's become a problem in the media for some outlets where management has a thumb on the content. But the traditional news organs, especially newspapers, still refrain to the most part. Indeed the NY times just went so far as to remove the typset justification from any article that comtained any sort of analysis or opinion, and reserving the typsetting for only traditional factual journalism stories so the difference is apparent to the reader from the start. How do we reinforce that ethos in the untrain journalist?

    • You say: But the thing is the reason those are news is that they are both exceptional and something that is specifically drummed in to any professional journalist not to do.

      But then: Yet we know that on college campuses, where we can measure the phenomena, Plagiarism is comparatively rampant. So evidently the common man cannot restrain himself.

      As if college students haven't had it drummed into them since their earliest schooling days that cheating is wrong.

      Or are you trying to say that professional journali
      • Without the editor&publisher supervising the Jouralist, there is more opportunity for ethical breaches.

        The point was not that journalist don't have ethocs problems, as you rightly observe. The point is that this neew medium has a low barrier to entry and a bigh degree of anonimity. Couple that with no editor&publisher taking the long view of establishing the reputation of the journal in a High-barrier-to-entry medium, then you have a looming problem.

        A possible retort would be to say that well, time
    • Lately there's been a few incidents of Plagiarism in the news, not to mention some wholesale ethical breaches of faked stories (e.g. Blair at the NY times and "a million Little pieces"). But the thing is the reason those are news is that they are both exceptional and something that is specifically drummed in to any professional journalist not to do.

      I disagree. "Traditional journalism" is rife with "press release reporting" where someone reads a press release, rewrites it, maybe calls a few sources starting
      • Copying a press release is NOT plagairism. It's like fruit of the vine: the plant wants you to eat it's fruit. The Fruit's sugar is not there to help the seed, it's there to get you to ingest it, and deposit the seed in a big hunk of poo.

        printing quotes from a press release and planting them in a nice steaming front page story is what the PR firm wants you to do. That's why they provide the partially preapred ingredients for you. Indeed if you do it without attribution the happier they are.

        What's the d
        • What's the difference? Taking when attribution is expected is plagiarism.

          You gotta be pulling my leg.

          As the reader of the newspaper, and presumably the one paying for it, *I* expect attribution.
  • First, I'll admit that I haven't read much about citizen jounalism other than Jeff Jarvis' http://www.buzzmachine.com/ [buzzmachine.com], but as a non-blogger thinking of getting in to it, I was wondering:

    Much of the discussion seems to be about getting out from under the control of "gatekeepers" like publishers and media owners. Yet, while the internet is less concerned with money, it has its own form of currency: popularity, in the form of the link.

    Doesn't this just turn the highest-traffic sites into new gatekeepers? Es
  • I am intrigued by your new project, NewAssignment.Net [newassignment.net]. How exactly does it work?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I think for the next 25 years or so any "citizen" journalists will be at a severe disadvantage because the system simply is not set up to accomodate them. At least when you get a job with a real media outlet, there is a bit of a vetting procedure where they won't just hire any joe shmoe off the street... generally some credentials are needed (eg: a year of "journalism school", a couple of years reading the news at the local radio station, etc. etc) If anybody can be a journalist, then it also means tha
  • Learn citizen journalists from solid journalism, yellow press or from public relation? Do they want to inform or does the bias of each and everyone poison the new medium from start?

    I had a look on the "readers edition", a german platform for citizen journalism. Nearly half of the submitted articles are not published because they are bear promotion of books, internet services or parties. The published articles are mostly "commentaries" which lack of every rule of argumentation or research. Sometime it see
  • How long before corporations and wealthy individuals start employing goons, lawyers and wiretaps, a la HP, to threaten and intimidate citizen journalists with no real legal recourse? If faced with this, should a citizen journalist just back off and let the guilty win? How can the protections now enjoyed by the fourth estate be extended to citizen journalism without diluting them?
  • The Electoral process seems to be more of a "marketing contest" and marketing takes bags and bags of money. There's commercial time, signs, billboards, radio, etc. Let's face it, a commercial is, at most 90 seconds to tell me why I should vote for you - hardly enough time. So, all we see are glittering generalities or, all to often, "don't vote for the other guy" spots.

    If "Citizen Jounalism" takes off, do you see this as a way that candidates without the massive financial resources normally required to
    • Do you see the "Big Boys" influencing the Citizen Journalists directed through (mis)advertising just like they influence the general public? Or, would the CJs, be smarter than your average bear and relativly immune to big money influnce the way that "real" journalists are? (:-)
      • by StressGuy (472374)
        I see what your are saying, but what I'm actually saying is that the CJ's more numerous, tend work on smaller budgets, and be more diverse in thier motivations. As a result, it is much harder to influence all of them. Sure, you can buy some of them, but the overall effect is mitigated by the inherent diversity of CJ.

        But let's see what the expert says.

  • Much of what we see in the blogosphere is pure opinion supported with selective representation of fact, half-truths, and the occasionally bald-faced lie. In fact, it has been shown repeatedly that "big name" bloggers (regardless their ideaological stripe) are not above representing pure propaganda as lily white truth. Does ethical journalism matter in this environment? Will it matter that a journalist include the fullest picture of the story possible if people are turning to partisan ideologues with specifi
  • In a traditional journalism environment (theoretically, at least), a reporter submits a story to an editor, who checks the story based on a list of criteria to make sure the facts are correct and that the story is solely an account of the facts and not the reporter's opinion of them. In a good newsroom, the same story will go to two or three different editors for the same checks, and (ideally) the different editors will have different backgrounds, different political leanings, and generally won't get along
  • When asking a primary source for information, I find that telling them I'm doing so to create a report on my blog tends to make them clam up, or continue to be unwilling to provide information that ought to be publicly available. What technique or phrases should I use to convince the interviewee that I both have a legitimate use for their information, and right to obtain it.
    • by tehcyder (746570)
      What technique or phrases should I use to convince the interviewee that I both have a legitimate use for their information, and right to obtain it.
      "Here's fifty quid."
  • How do you think long term reporting will be funded in future? For example, infiltrating mafia gangs, exploring the intricacies of unfashionable African wars, following terror operations across continents. These aren't something the average citizen journalist can find time to do, let alone the funding.
  • Cognitive dissonance anyone? If one accepts the premise that ordinary citizens can be effective journalists, why does one need an expert to vet that premise?
  • An analogy. One bank has a dozen vulnerabilities assuming that someone has a man on the inside, and has a login to the computer system. Another bank has a single vulnerability. They keep the back door of the vault open and unguarded 24 hours a day. Which is least secure? The one with 1 vulnerability or the one with 12?
  • by Chacham (981)
    There is a lot of bias in the mainstream media. Whether it's this way or that way depends on which reader is asked, but the reporter himself almost always feels they are not biased. They probably mean it too, since everyone sees themselves as a centrist.

    On blogs, where a more personal touch is expected and delivered, bias it outright. There the opposite happens. The readers (with the same bias as the blogger) see the entries as centrist. The writer states the bias at the outset, and then is free to be biase
  • Please note that Dan Gillmor now blogs at The Center for Citizen Media [citmedia.org] - not Bayosphere, which is now part of Backfence [backfence.com].
  • Web sites are still in no way "if you built it they will come" kind of media. Because I write something about a subject doesn't mean it's journalism. I would argue that almost anything we write is only news if it's noticed, promoted or a part of a subject non-random sweep such as an agent looking for specific things. Journalism is rarely biased, rarely unpromoted without an agenda behind it and rarely noticed without a subject's interest.
    What is your opinion on blogs and this so-called Journalistic indepe
  • I helped run a LUG (fslc.usu.edu) for four years. I want to help the spread the Free Software ideals to non-programmers and I feel like civic journalism is the most important area for those ideals to be spread. So I want to start a new group (ugotta.org) that helps people take advantage of technology to publish there views on whatever they feel they need to talk about. So my question is what is the gap? What are the sort of things that people need to know to become better civic journalists? The technol
  • On the assumption that we're not just talking citizen journalism, but electronic citizen journalism: how can I, as a US citizen publishing on the net, get the same First Amendment and case law protection as a print journalist/publisher? The old chesnut that the "freedom of the press belongs to the owner of the press" (ie. the mechanical device) seems to be taken literally by prosecutors and judges, such that someone publishing on their own website without deriving an income doesn't get the same benefit of t
  • If citizen journalism is agout citizens doing journalism and not "experts" or "professionals" then why should we ask someone else about citizen journalism?
  • Why would Reuters, which is part of the mainstream press, contribute $100,000 to NewAssignment.net [newassignment.net]?
  • How can we prevent sinking in our close-mindedness if all news would be "filtered" by natural subjectivity?
  • How would citizen journalism operate on a local level? Is the citizen journalist really going to cover the long-and-boring city council meeting faithfully every week... even though he's not getting paid? Not a sexy beat, but we need to keep an eye on the local clowns, too.

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