A Room of Our Own

Part of being a fairly old school blogger and very old school podcaster who calls himself a journalist, means that I get invited to speak at conferences and quite often, to give my point of view on issues relating to new media. So as much as I hate to take time out of really discussing and analyzing topics that need our attention, I’ll use this post to do a little META talk and respond to a very scathing article in Mother Jones on the topic of citizen journalism.

In Adam Weinstein’s article “Stop the Press Releases” he tears into newspapers that have cut back on staff and replaced traditional…. real journalism with bloggers who produce content for free. He slams the content produced by these bloggers as filled with fluff and often – straight up marketing propaganda. Throughout the text he refers to the transforming of newspapers to some sort of collection of user generated, mob rule, mess. As Weinstein puts it:

Content has become “platform agnostic”—making print and online versions interchangeable. The chain’s newsrooms were rechristened “information centers” and reporters became “mojos”—mobile journalists who shoot their own photos and videos (badly, it turns out) and post them to the web without editing. Long-form and investigative stories were replaced by short, searchable bursts of information.

I call myself a citizen journalist because I seek to report about issues and events unfolding in the world. Of course, I do this as an independent podcaster, so I make use, as best I can, of the resources available to me from my own experiences and contacts, as well as those I can find using the internetS. There are plenty of things that traditional journalists, full-time paid on-staff journalists, can afford to do in terms of time and resources, that I simply can’t. But then again, I have the advantage of being free of their institutional and professional limitations. (Like being able to call the internet the internetS. )

If you’ve ever heard me speak on the topic, you might have caught me at a moment of over excitement where I make a sweeping statement that I don’t mean. Something like “old media is dead, good riddance!” It is fun to say, I admit it. But the truth is, I share the criticisms of Weinstein; I’ve seen newsrooms picked apart and newspapers that slash jobs for journalists who do serious in-depth research and investigation. I’ve watched as insitutions sanction blogs, pretending that they care about the spirit of openness and candidness. The bloggers that arrive on the scene and proceed to do nothing but marketing and navel gazing, while being showered with a few perks and access to elite events.

As someone dedicated to citizen journalism, despite the fact that I don’t have any formal institution behind me nor a steady funding stream to compensate me for my work… it is not my hope that newspapers disappear. Sure they’ve done some terrible work over the years. And sure, they too should and can be accused of doing their own marketing and irresponsible reporting. They may deserve a wake up call, but once newspaper owners and managing editors decide they can fire everyone and just use free work from citizen reporters, thats when it goes to far for me.

We have our place, and I can tell you from experience, we’re fighting to earn this place within the media landscape. But newspapers and news media from formal institutions, tv, radio, newspaper, they can still serve a very important role for all of us. And if business logic, and profit margins continue to recommend they just throw it all away in favor of free labor and fluff blogging… then our world will fall even further into a destructive, corrupted, abyss.