Thursday, May 13, 2010

Citizen journalists as...

...The Fifth Estate.

No, that title has not been given to such journalists by me, but it was one of the themes resulting from what would have been an interesting conference to have been part of -- a two-day Arab Media Forum that took place in Dubai.

Reports indicate that one of the more intriguing sessions was how to characterize citizen journalists. The newspaper report mentioned here in its headline suggests the "debate rages on" about the role of the citizen journalist. I think such terminology is passe. The citizen journalist IS part of the news culture (whether we think that's a good idea is irrelevant), and he or she can reasonably expect to be an important information gatherer in the future.

Now, let's acknowledge the need to be careful here. The citizen journalist affords mainstream news media operations a source of video from breaking news events. There have been countless numbers of examples of this relationship, and none of them needs to be rehashed here. Moreover, news organizations through such ideas as iReport are encouraging citizens to provide additional depth and perspective to a story. However, neither of these examples (and others that relate to them) should suggest that the citizen journalist is replacing the mainstream, trained reporter.

But in an era in which newsroom staffing is cut (and we see such reports on an almost daily basis) and the idea of "doing more with less" has become a newsroom mantra, we need to acknowledge that supplementing news with individual perspectives is part of the future of the news business.

Yes, there are ethical considerations that cannot be overlooked. I've written about those in other places. Likewise there are legal challenges that cannot be forgotten.

Nevertheless, scream and rage against the citizen journalist, and mock him or her all you want, but that title and that person is going to be part of the news conversation for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, the two-day forum took place at almost the same time that a worldwide newspaper editors meeting, scheduled for next month in Beirut, was canceled due to financial concerns and regional tensions.

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