Posted by: bburatti | November 28, 2011

Free Journalism

The Internet liberates citizens to report freely without the constraint of requiring licensed spectrum or large capital outlay.  Its instant access allows for stealth journalism. Instead of stapling posters to telephone poles in the middle of the night, rebels post and tweet.  Incidents are no longer confined to eye witnesses. This is one of the greatest promises of the Internet and demonstrates where citizen journalism is best used.  It provides the extra cameras, the unfiltered raw footage, and the undercover access that cannot be delivered by any other means.

The Guardian’s invitation to have citizens help investigate expenses contained in 400,000 documents is a good example of how non-journalists can assist paid journalists. This is no different than calling in an expert to provide perspective on a specialized topic. It’s just a broader scope.

David Watts Barton’s piece about hyperlocal websites exposes the difficult truth about citizen journalism when it forms the basis for entire websites.  It replaces paid journalists with free, untrained labor.  It rewards quantity over quality.

For paid journalists working with a new timeline for story distribution, I think it’s naïve to think that users consume a blog differently than a posted article in the editorial section.  If information is available, the user doesn’t distinguish between a reporter tweeting, blogging, or posting it to the home page.  While journalists now deal with the story continually in progress, the expectation of high quality should remain the same on every platform.

Discussion questions:

  1. Users expect information on the web to be free.  What does that say about the value we ascribe to reliable information?
  2. When is content generated by users appropriate and when is it not?



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