Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Washington Post Swings At Citizen Journalism, Fouls Out

With a stomach full of turkey, The Editorialiste returns with a healthy dose of citizen journalism coverage.

In today's Washington Post, staff writer Jose Antonio Vargas reports on his own MSM versus citizen journalist tiff, backed by the words "anyone" and "Orwellian," among other things:

Aboard the crowded D train, rumbling into Brooklyn on the Manhattan Bridge, the inevitable rant explodes. A rant courtesy of Faye Anderson, whom we'll call Ms. CJ, a.k.a. Citizen Journalist. A rant directed at us, Mr. MSM, a.k.a. Mainstream Media, for all our perceived faults.

"It's not you, the journalist, it's the institution," Ms. CJ tells Mr. MSM. "You're not telling the whole story. . . . You've lost your credibility."

We listen, take notes, check if the tape recorder's working. No telling what Anderson might do if she's misquoted.
Phew! And they call citizen journalists the sassy, bile-spewing ones. Despite this retread of a story -- it is basically what this blog was originally founded upon -- it's put within the context of the 2008 election, and reads like a text version of CNN's now-canceled Crossfire. After intense discussion -- yes, still us versus them -- it ends this way:

On the night of the forum, Ms. CJ, sitting in the press room, wrote on her blog, "OK, I'm settled in and looking around. I see a lot of familiar faces from the mainstream media. As they deign to check out bloggers row, they may wonder who lets us in. I guess the debate about whether bloggers are journalists is over."

Says Anderson: "Look, everyone's trying to analyze what citizen journalism is, what its impact will be in this election. We, the citizen journalists, are figuring it out. You mainstream media folks are figuring it out. But whatever it is, there's no going back. We're here. Get used to it."

I don't know about you, but I'm disappointed. Why? Because this story has been published so very many times, and we're not any closer to closure on the issue. Hell, even I wrote this story -- two years ago. Are citizen journalists and big-J journalists ever going to get along?

Can't we just agree that the word journalism isn't exclusive? (But the word professional is.)

This article didn't add anything to advance discussion on this topic, and it sure didn't do anything for the reader. After all, isn't the reader a citizen journalist, then?

Think about this: As a reader of the Washington Post, you are reading that the Washington Post is having a hard time dealing with the fact that you, the reader, can indirectly contribute and shape it's coverage, and then you're being told that they're having a hard time dealing with that fact -- under the premise that it's news you should be reading. And yet, the "citizen journalists" in the article couldn't appear more distant from the reader.

In my book, the whole thing's backwards. Can someone e-mail WaPo and tell them not to write about citizen journalism anymore unless it's in the context of the reader? And while you're at it, tell them that self-coverage (like ProPublica) is irrelevant to non-pressheads?

Someone get Jay Rosen in here, stat.


Anonymous said...

VERY well put...you should get mad more often :)

It seems everyone is claiming to speak on behalf of the reader, viewer, listener (consumer). As if *we* can't make our decisions about anything and we *need* bloggers or self-described citizen journalists or the patriarchs (yes, I used the right word) of big media to tell us what's what.

Arrr...'tis quite Orwellian it is..arrrr!

Doug Mitchell

Anonymous said...

"Can't we just agree that the word journalism isn't exclusive? (But the word professional is.)"

I agree with you. But I think it's important to note that most citizen media sites are so low key that it's almost impossible to compare them to "professional" journalism. The majority of citizen media seems to be hyperlocal--to the point where competition isn't even an issue (especially financially, since they don't tend to make a lot of money.)