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Jeff Jarvis, Don’t Kill Off Citizen Journalism

Jeff Jarvis, at BuzzMachine and really everywhere else, wants to put the term “citizen journalism” to rest. He writes in the Guardian that:

…networked journalism is about much more than camera-phone pictures of disasters or stars. It can be about digging up news and keeping government honest. I used to call this “citizens’ journalism”, but I recanted when I realised that journalism should be defined not by the person but by the act.

He writes in another post:

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism – its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves – and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

I like the networked journalism concept, but to me the phrase networked journalism is a cop out, a phrase used to offend no one. Indeed, what offends journalists is anytime the word citizen, public or civic is added to the equation. They whined about public or civic journalism, and now they whine about citizen journalism.

They want to keep the citizens at arm’s length. They are too unpredictable. For example, I was reading the Carnegie Corporation’s Journalism’s Crisis of Confidence: A Challenge for the Next Generation. And I was struck by Deborah Howell whining because she got 500 emails a day, and many of them were rude. So you are the ombudsman for the Washington Post, one of the most powerful newspapers in the country. Instead of whining try to find a way to talk to them. Filter out the crackpots and then talk, engage, invite the rest into the newsroom. After all, if the ombudsman–the readers’ representative –can’t do it, who can?

Since most journalists are now middle class and educated, the only way they are going to know more about people unlike themselves is to invite the unpredictable, the nonprofessional public to become part of the newsmaking process. That’s why I like Minnesota Public Radio’s term Public Insight Journalism.

When we founded the Public Journalism Network, I did not want us to give up the name public journalism, even though, it was a hot button issue and had lots of baggage. I also pushed for the former AEJMC Civic Journalism Interest Group to become the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group.

If we remove the words citizen, public, civic from the equation, it will be too easy to forget that this is about public, civic, citizen participation. This is not just about helping news operations to get a free staff or even developing better coverage, it’s a way of getting an engaged public to help build a bigger, better and stronger democracy.

I’m sticking with the flawed phrases citizen journalism or citizen media until someone comes up with a better one and networked journalism is not it.

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2 Responses to “Jeff Jarvis, Don’t Kill Off Citizen Journalism”

  1. tish grier Says:

    Hello Len…was great meeting you at Harvard…

    as someone who’s worked a little in citizen journalism, and a little in regular journalism, and has hit a number of conferences where there are more journalists than “people,” what I’m noticing in all the wordgames is a need to gain control from the citizens over what’s seen as journalistic product.

    There’s a common conceit that “the people” have no clue what they are doing, and that their attempts at journalism are amateurish. Nick Lemann isn’t the only one who thinks this way–just the only one to actually say directly.

    Many others are perhaps saying it indirectly with tacit endorsement of new terminologies that are less than adequate.

    IMO, all the language shift has to do with money and flagging business models. There’s always less concern about civic discourse when one’s bottom line is hurting. When one’s bottom line is hurting, and the investors are screaming, there’s also ample reason to want to gain control over *something*…

    the only place to gain control is to try to take something away from a group that’s easy to characterize as rubes who know not what they do…

    well, most citizen journalists (and I know a number) are anything *but* rubes. And because the citizens who are doing citizen journalism are very smart and very ‘net savvy, I don’t think anyone, even the likes of Jeff Jarvis, will be able to upend the term that many use, quite appropriately, with great pride and distinction.

  2. Paul Bradshaw Says:

    I’ve twittered before that I don’t like the term ‘networked journalism’ because it makes it easy for journalists to imagine that they are at the centre of that network. They aren’t. I prefer ‘distributed journalism’, on which I’ve written far too much already: