You might say that the impact of “citizen journalism” on 2009 started with US Airways Flight 1549 crashing into the Hudson River, and the pictures of the plane hitting Twitter before any news outlets had them. And of course the role that Twitter played in helping Americans find out about protests in Iran after its election, proving that the micro-blogging tool could be used for something other than hourly updates about mundane activities. It may have peaked with MissTearah and the Fort Hood shootings, when news outlets realized that you can’t trust eyewitness accounts for your entire network of information.
But if all we had to go on was Twitter, than it would be the Year of Microblogging. Some consider bloggers to be citizen journalists because they work outside the spectrum of traditional news organizations, with all the pros and cons that it entails. Below, we take a look at what citizen journalism in 2009 might mean for the New Year.
In a year when we’ve seen newspapers cut back to bare bones, some critics may ask why we’re even working with this outdated print model. Why can’t we all just blog and try to get advertisers on our own? Besides being ridiculously time consuming, Eric Boehlert, author of Bloggers On The Bus — How the Internet Changed Politics and the Press told FishbowlNY earlier this year:
“The blogosphere sort of lives alongside traditional media and helps fill in the gaps. Blogs help keep the press accountable and raise issues that the traditional media is overlooking or forgetting. They can be a watchdog while having their own original content and analysis. It makes me nervous when people say we don’t need newspapers. In a perfect world, newspapers and blogs would live alongside each other.”
It’s the rise of bloggers not only as political junkies but as investigative reporters and experts that has turned “citizen journalism” into something vague and harder to define. Are you a citizen journalist if you just write for the Web and don’t have a proper news background? What if you do have a history in news but were laid-off from your paper and now write for Ground Report or Examiner.com? What about the people who edit Wikipedia’s pages for free? Does that count as any type of journalism? It does if you’re the first person to update Brittany Murphy’s page when she dies, making your information as valuable as those getting paid by Harvey Levin’s TMZ.
Unfortunately, in their current state most citizen journalists, however you want to define them, do not have the money and resources of a traditional newsroom. They can’t, like Al Roker and Matt Lauer did, go to Afghanistan and get “on the ground” experience. Unless they already live in Afghanistan, and then they’re a very valuable resource if they can get their information out.
It’s been some critics’ argument that it’s not these type of journalists that are the problem, but the news organizations that, because of cutbacks in staffing, start using public tools like Twitter to cull their information without fact checking. Like Boehlert said, news blogs first arose as watchdogs of the media. If 2009 taught us anything about citizen journalism, it’s that in 2010 it will become an important tool for traditional news orgs to utilize (with care), but won’t be able to complete replace them.