Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Merging Citizen and Professional Journalism

PRI’s The World reported last night on trends in global news coverage, questioning whether or not foreign bureaus are necessary in the information age. (According to a report by Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center, the number of foreign correspondents at U.S. newspapers fell 25% between 2002 and 2006.)

Given increased attention to global issues post-9/11, some attribute the closures to the corporate media’s alleged desire to place profits over quality reporting. The program highlighted the Hot Zone, an “experiment” by Yahoo! News in which a single photojournalist, Kevin Sites, “will deliver stories via a five-fingered multimedia platform of text, photography, video, audio, and interactive chat - all available on one website.” Sites travels the world with the goal of covering every armed conflict in one year.

While sending a single person out into the field is notably cheaper than operating entire bureaus, many, including John Schidlovsky from Johns Hopkins University’s International Reporting Project, are skeptical:

We’re missing depth. One reason the American media failed in its job of covering the lead up to the war in Iraq miserably was partly because we didn’t have enough good correspondents who were out there telling the American people what was really going on in the Middle East.

The World highlighted another project, France 24’s The Observers, which has professional journalists and editors gathering, editing, and verifying content on the web submitted by citizens around the world, which is then broadcast as news.

The Shorenstein Center recently published a discussion paper on “Journalism without Journalists,” in which Michael Maier, former Sagan Fellow at the Center, comments on the integration of citizen journalism and open source media into mainstream press:

I would definitely consider bloggers--who dedicated themselves to unconditional freedom early on--to be outside the media. And I hope they are able to stay there, so that their minds can remain open and their speech remain truly free. Several attempts have been made to integrate bloggers into old institutions in order to inject fresh air, but it was not the traditional media that changed through these efforts. Rather, the bloggers lost their spicy language and became tame to please their old-news bosses. The blog as a truly independent, stand-alone format should be kept alive in all it’s uniqueness. [sic]

Bloggers are descendants of the European “Pamphletistes” who in the Age of Enlightenment wrote excessive and unrestrained polemics. The old media would be wise to encourage bloggers to stay independent, but building some kind of connection may be beneficial—the anarchy and irreverence of the blog world invigorates journalism tremendously.

You can see France 24’s editors debate the merit of professionally edited blog content as journalism here.

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