After working in a newsroom for some time, many journalists began to work in a bubble and lose touch with the community on which they report. Rather than writing great journalism to enlighten readers, some journos began to write solely for the adoration of their peers and editors, or at worst, for journalism competitions.
“Citizen journalist” has come to refer to, in its most basic form, the common man who makes his voice heard, but the term itself sometimes takes on a derogatory connotation. They aren’t real journalists, of course, just some bozo with a computer. This attitude coupled with the fact that some reporters are perturbed by the recent surge of citizen journalism suggests a disconnect between our work and the lives we lead outside of the newsroom. It’s time to stop reading blogs simply to raid them for story ideas, but to become a part of the discourse that is happening outside of our own news sites.
Before Web 2.0 and multimedia journalism began to change the landscape of the newsroom, the focus was mainly on newsroom diversity. Many media companies recognized the benefit in a staff that reflected the community. But if a diverse staff doesn’t see itself as part of the community, then the very purpose of diversity fails.
It’s easy to be inspired by the work of our peers at mainstream media powerhouses like the New York Times and MSNBC, but there is great multimedia reporting happening outside of the traditional journalism sphere that should not be discounted. Sites like Wikipedia are often maligned by professional journalists, and even though they are fallible, are a case for the power of an online community coming together to create a substantial resource outside of the hierarchy of a mainstream news outlet.
Those crazy remarks in the online comments section can be a further put off and are often cited as a case against letting average Joes in on the conversation, but insightful information can also be found amongst the craziness.
Journalists should be an active part of the community they cover and not discount citizen journalists as untrained hacks. Lack of formal journalism training doesn’t negate the voice of the average citizen. To ignore those voices is to ignore the voice of the community on which you report.
Ultimately it comes down to never thinking you know more than your audience. I’m not suggesting all journalists should drop their notepads and write whatever the heck they want. Rather, journalists should remember that we are all “citizens” of the communities we cover and our reportage should reflect that.