Posted by: Nathan Dinsdale | November 28, 2011

News Alert: Bloggers Suffer Rash of Elbow Injuries Patting Selves On Back

I’m a 21st century digital boy, I don’t know how to read but I’ve got a lot of toys… — Bad Religion, “21st Century (Digital Boy)“, 1990

Call me a dinosaur. Or a traditionalist. Or just a plain old stick-in-the-mud. But those who readily anoint “citizen journalism” as the inevitable successor to legacy journalism need to pull out their ear buds, set down the iPad and slowly back away for a minute.

Digital technology has indisputably  transformed how we communicate, interact, learn and even think. And it’s certainly had a huge effect on journalism as well as individuals and communities vis-à-vis the concept of “citizen journalists.” But revolutionary tools do not automatically equate to a revolution.

Technology and social media are tools. Means to an end. And while those means have achieved remarkable ends in journalism, activism and communication in general, they’re also just as frequently used as self-indulgent vehicles for tunnel-visioned narcissism. To wit, Kim Kardashian has 6.8 million Facebook “likes” and 11.5 million Twitter followers. Thomas Friedman has 17,000 and 67,000.

Digital tools undoubtedly increased organizers’ ability to mobilize (and to some extent sustain) social movements like Occupy. But relatively few protesters appeared to have anything more than cursory knowledge of the underlying issues and grievances the movement is purportedly founded upon.

What this week’s readings underscored for me is that digital technology, social media and “citizen journalism,” are tools that can be reasonably effective but also significantly flawed unless three fundamental issues (training, expertise, funding) are adequately addressed.

Our “140 characters or less” society is often reliant on style (and speed) over substance.  But real journalism, whether it’s conducted by citizen or legacy journalists, is painstaking work. Original, un-aggregated reporting of any significant depth requires time, resources and due diligence. For now, most of that heavy lifting is still done by the dinosaurs.

Discussion questions:

How has digital technology and social media helped—and hurt—social movements like Occupy?

What distinguishes a “citizen journalist” from an active, engaged citizen with a WiFi connection?


  1. Ha ha ha! Great headline, nice work.

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