Citizen Journalism: Do We All Want The Same Thing?

Citizen journalism is anything from a person submitting a photograph of a car crash, to a full-blown citizen-run news blog.

It includes the protestors in the Middle East, who Tweeted and blogged photos and updates of the uprising.

It includes the woman who took a photo from an airplane flying past the last Endeavor shuttle launch — a view no traditional journalist had access to that morning.

It includes the gadfly videotaping municipal meetings from the back of a hearing room.

In a different time, these same “citizen journalists” would have been simply called sources — and would have needed the professionals in order to reach a wider audience.

Today they can publish on their own.


Part of the averse reaction to “citizen journalism” is simply the nomenclature.

In MediaShift’s 2006 “Guide to Citizen Journalism” Mark Glaser questions the term — calling it “imprecise.”

“Aren’t professional journalists citizens as well?” Glaser asks. “What if you’re an illegal alien and not really a citizen — does that invalidate your work?”

The Digital Journalist, in a December 2009 editorial, called “citizen journalism” a “misnomer.”

“There is no such thing. There are citizens and there are journalists,” the editorial states.

The difference, The Digital Editor says, is that professional journalists work to get the news every day — and adhere to strict ethical guidelines.

“These people can call themselves ‘citizen news gatherers,’ but it is no more appropriate to call them citizen journalists than it would be to sit before a citizen judge or be operated on by a citizen brain surgeon.” the editorial states.

Others are more concerned with the act than the name.

In a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Peter Funt called citizen journalism the “second-biggest media miscalculation since the rise of the internet.” Citizens, Funt declares, belong in the bleachers watching the game, not playing in it.

The challenge organizing CTSPJ’s “Citizen Journalism” program (scheduled for Feb. 4 in Torrington, Conn.) is getting past the program’s name.

We want people to know what we’ll be talking about, but we don’t want to push people away because of the name.


We go into this program with three assumptions:

  • Citizen Journalism exists — whether you like it or hate it.
  • Those who participate in acts of journalism (whether paid professionals or volunteers) want a better-informed community.
  • A better-informed citizenry is a basic principal of self-governance: Hence the First Amendment.

So, let’s get together — professional journalists and citizen journalists alike — and talk about how we can raise the bar in how we present information to our audiences.

That’s what this program is about. Here are some questions we hope to ask — and answer:

  • What can we all do together to make sure published information is accurate and fair?
  • How can we create news communities that promote citizens learning about their government and their communities?
  • What are ways we can work together to fill in the gaps left by a bad economy and drastic shifts in the news industry?

The topics can be decided based on your interests. A general outline for the program will include:

Legal questions: Are the legal protections for a journalist and a citizen different?

Ethical Questions: What is the SPJ Code of Ethics? How does it apply to citizens? Should news organizations work with citizen journalists, or are they technically competition?

Technical Questions: Should citizens strive to use AP Style in community blogs? Does it matter if journalists publish cell phone photos, even it they are lower digital quality?


As I’ve said in a previous blog post, I hope to start this discussion before Feb. 4, in the comments here and on CTSPJ’s Facebook page.

I aim to continue it after the program has ended on Feb. 4.

The goal is to come up with a set of guidelines that citizens and journalists can use to help guide their decisions in publishing.



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