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Invite Citizen Journalists into the Journalism Party

It seems every day someone is taking a poke at citizen journalism. Here is what Samuel Freedman, a professor of journalism at Columbia University, New York Times education columnist and author of Letters To A Young Journalist, wrote recently at CBS’s Public Eye:

However wrapped in idealism, citizen journalism forms part of a larger attempt to degrade, even to disenfranchise journalism as practiced by trained professionals….To treat an amateur as equally credible as a professional, to congratulate the wannabe with the title “journalist,” is only to further erode the line between raw material and finished product.

He does though see the value in raw material “generated by amateurs, that a trained, skilled journalist should know how to weigh, analyze, describe, and explain.”

Jay Rosen picked up on this a while back when he quoted Xeni Jardin, co-editor of BoingBoing. In a New York Times interview she said, asking:

…whether blogs would replace the major news media is like asking “will farmers’ markets replace restaurants?”

Of course, she is talking about blogs, but you could say much the same about citizen journalism. Here is more of her quote:

“One is a place for rich raw materials. One represents a different stage of the process…One will not replace the other, but I think the two together are good for each other.”

That’s the key for citizen journalism and mainstream journalism too. The two together are good for each other.

One tiny bit of evidence is my Online Interview with Gil Thelen I did earlier this week. It got mentioned by Romenesko and even became part of a column in the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minnesota. I added a little bit to the national discussion on the McClatchy, Knight Ridder discussion.

Okay, I am a trained journalist, actually let’s say an experienced journalist, because I never went to journalism school. I mostly learned on the job. And I am not alone. Betty Medsger, who produced the 1996 study Winds of Change: Challenges Confronting Journalism Education, wrote this in an essay published in 2002:

Consider this possibility: Journalism education gets in the way– in the way of creating good journalism and in the way of getting a good education.

She adds:

In a survey of “new journalists,” people who had worked for one to 11 years as of 1996, 27 percent of them said they had never studied journalism….Looking at the data, I found that this group not only had not majored or minored in journalism or studied at the master’s degree level –they had not taken even a single course in journalism. This 27 percent was in various ways doing as well or better than the new journalists who had gone to J-school: better in job satisfaction, in income, in achieving managerial positions.

Here is what else she learned:

59 percent of print journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes never studied journalism;

75 percent of broadcast journalists who won DuPont Awards never studied journalism;

58 percent of journalists awarded Nieman Fellowships never studied journalism, and;

51 percent of journalists awarded Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism.

In her wonderful argument about how journalism schools should be run, she says:

Journalism faculty should become gate openers to the entire university, rather than guardians of journalism studies. As such they would work far more closely with colleagues in other disciplines.

I would say to the Samuel Freedmans of the world rather than worry that citizen journalists might tarnish the profession, open the gates instead. Search for the very best talent in the blogging, citizen journalism movement and invite them into the party.

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