Saturday, April 25, 2015

Citizen Journalism

The process of gathering and reporting news has changed significantly due to the advent of the Web, which has enabled the increasing involvement of citizens in news production. This trend has been given many names, including Citizen Journalism, participatory journalism, and crowd-sourced journalism.

Citizen Journalism describes the different kinds of journalism people can do on their own, without media companies or professional salaried journalists necessarily involved.

This can be as simple as regularly commenting on news story in the Dallas Morning News that adds information or perspective the reporter left out, writing letters to the editor or as demanding as self-publishing a news and editorial blog on the Internet.

Citizen journalists are members of the public who play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, fact checking and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.

Recently, a white South Carolina police officer was arrested and charged with murder after a video taken by a citizen reporter showed him fatally shooting a fleeing, unarmed black man in the back. There would have been no murder charges if a citizen reporter had not used his cell phone to video record North Charleston Officer Michael Slager shooting the 50-year-old unarmed black man, in the back, as many as eight times. What if there had been no video? What if the incident had just been a situation where another unarmed black man was killed and the police officer wrote in his report, ‘this black man is dangerous,’ ‘he grabbed my taser,’ ‘I was afraid for my life,’ and ‘I had to shoot him to protect my life’ - case closed.

The idea behind citizen journalism is that citizens can exercise their right of free speech by using the tools of modern technology and the Internet to augment and fact-check corporate media companies, either on their own or in collaboration with others.

For example, you might write about a city council meeting on a blog or on FaceBook, you might fact-check an online newspaper article from a mainstream newspaper and point out factual errors or bias by leaving comments, or, you might record a digital photo or video of a newsworthy event on your smart phone and post it online.

Cambridge Community Television
Citizen Journalism - What Is It?

Citizen Journalism Discussion with CNN's Lila King
When did it start?

With today’s technology the citizen journalist movement has flourished as increasing numbers of citizens publish news to the world on the Internet as the modern equivalent of the printing press.

Professor Mary-Rose Papandrea, a constitutional law professor at Boston College, notes in her article, "Citizen Journalism and the Reporter’s Privilege," that in many ways, the definition of journalist has now come full circle:

"When the First Amendment was adopted, 'freedom of the press' referred quite literally to the freedom to publish using a printing press, rather than the freedom of organized entities engaged in the publishing business.

The printers of 1775 did not exclusively publish newspapers; instead, in order to survive financially they dedicated most of their efforts printing materials for paying clients.

Newspapers and pamphlets of the American Revolutionary era were predominantly partisan and became even more so through the turn of the century. They engaged in little news gathering and instead were predominantly vehicles for opinion.

The passage of the term 'journalism' into common usage in the 1830s occurred at roughly the same time that newspapers, using high speed rotary steam presses, began mass circulation throughout the eastern United States.

Using the printing press, newspapers could distribute exact copies to large numbers of readers at a low incremental cost. In addition, the rapidly increasing demand for advertising for brand-name products fueled the creation of publications subsidized in large part by advertising revenue. It was not until the late nineteenth century that the concept of the “press” morphed into the [modern] description of [newspaper and then broadcast media] companies engaged in an often competitive commercial media enterprise."

Why is it important?

A robust, free press has been viewed by many as an essential check on government and business since the early days of the Republic. “The only security of all is in a free press,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1823. Nearly 60 years ago, the Supreme Court declared that "the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is essential to the condition of a free society."

Unfortunately, media consolidation over the past twenty years has taken its toll on the "widest possible dissemination of information as an essential check on government and business." Through successive acquisitions and mergers a few massive multinational media conglomerates controlled by conservative owners control more and more of our vital information sources – including television networks, cable channels, newspaper publishing, radio, and the Internet.

One-third of America's independently-owned television stations have vanished since 1975, while at the same time, three media giants now own all of the major cable news networks in America. Before the The Telecommunications Act of 1996 lifted ownership limits for radio stations one company could own no more than 40 stations nationwide. The Act allowed incredible consolidation of radio station ownership and one company alone, Clear Channel Inc., now owns nearly 1,200 radio stations across the country. Here is what radio media consolidation has wrought:
  • 91% of the programming (2,570 hours per weekday) was hosted by the conservatives, 9% (254 hours) by the progressives.
  • Broken down according to station ownership, the numbers are as follows: Clear Channel: 86% conservative programming. Citadel: 100% conservative programming. Cumulus: 100% conservative programming. Salem: 100% conservative programming. CBS stands out from the rest politically, but still shows a 3:1 conservative-to-progressive ratio.
  • In some markets (most notably, New York and Chicago), the ratio is close to 1:1. In others (Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, it's 100% conservative or very close to it.)
More than two-thirds of independently-owned newspapers have disappeared over the last 35 years with more than 200 publishing companies disappearing over the last 20 years. Vin Crosbie, a noted Syracuse University professor and consultant, has predicted that more than half of the approximately 1,400 daily newspapers publishing in the country today could be out of business by 2020.

Newspaper publishers have reduced daily newsroom staffing of more than 29% from since 2001 as circulation and advertising revenues have plummeted over the last decade. Every year there are fewer and fewer newspaper reporters covering state capitols and city halls, while the number of states with newspapers covering the U.S. Congress full-time has dwindled from 35 in 1985 to just 21 in 2010.

In 1910, nearly 60% of cities had competing daily papers, but today that completion of viewpoints has all but disappeared. Traditional media companies use the ‘lack of objectivity’ excuse as a convenient way to put down citizen journalism. That’s a fair critique, as most people who step up to the roll of citizen journalist are usually biased to some degree.

Fact is, however, everything you see on TV, hear on the radio or read in the paper is colored by the limited knowledge, opinions based on that knowledge and biases of professional journalists and editors. Today, too many managing editors manipulate their editorial decisions to suit a publisher’s agenda, as Fox News well demonstrates.

The amount of filtering and editing that happens from an event occurring to publication of details in the increasingly understaffed and conservative owned traditional media world makes it impossible for voters to receive the full and unbiased information they need.

As reporters on a beat have become an endangered species, they no longer objectively collect and report the news. As corporate media companies reduced costs by firing reporters cheap news content has flowed from conservative think tanks.

Since the 1970s wealthy conservatives in this country have developed a powerful propaganda infrastructure that is currently heavily funded by the Koch brothers and other wealthy Republicans. They pump large amounts of money into conservative think tanks where well-paid conservative staffers develop position papers. The think tanks release the position papers pushing conservative ideas to an army of conservative pundits and politicians who talk on cable TV appearances and publish in conservative blogs on the Web to promote the conservative ideas, repeating the conservative talking points. The corporate media parrots these positions as if they're fact; conservative politicians (funded by the Kochs and other conservative donors) embrace and promote the same talking points, as if they're fact.

This is the nature of the echo chamber. When it is fully operational, the same points are made in many media appearances, and on many blog websites and in every kind of media until the ideas become the conventional wisdom - and become the top listings on Google searches.

Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films has produced a investigative piece, which focuses on the propaganda industry, largely funded by the Kochs, whose sole purpose is to turn fringe ideas into mainstream policy arguments. In BNF's investigative work, they found documents and interviews that illustrate a vast industry of spokespeople, front groups, think tanks and elected officials, which have built a self-sustaining echo chamber.

The video Echo Chamber highlights the Republican onslaught on Social Security as just one example. The Koch echo chamber on Social Security begins with think tanks like the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation and Mercatus Center at George Mason University and the Reason Foundation, which owe their founding and funding to Koch backing.

These think tanks take their tens of millions of dollars in Koch funding and produce more than 300 position papers distorting the purpose and effectiveness of Social Security. 

Increasingly, it is left to citizen journalists publishing on the Internet to provide the widest possible dissemination of information to provide the essential democratic check on government and business.

As newspaper circulation declines, online readership is surging. The internet is slowly closing in on television as Americas main source of national and international news. Currently, about 50 percent of all adults say they get most of their news about national and international news from the internet. Since 2007, the number of 18 to 29 year old adults citing the internet as their main source has nearly doubled, from 34 percent to 65 percent.

How to get started?

Reader demand and electronic publishing technology is changing the way news is read and offered. Today, websites like Google or Yahoo are mimicking newspapers, by using sophisticated computer programs to automatically aggregate content by compiling links to content from newspapers, wire services, blogs, and other sources from around the world. Other so-called aggregators like the Huffington Post and Raw Story "blogs" extend the Yahoo model by mixing links to newspapers’ stories with original content written for free by a wide cross section of citizen journalist volunteer bloggers.

Other bloggers, either on their own or in small group collaborations, publish blogs that frequently mingle aggregated content from other blogs with their own originally written news content and editorial commentary. DailyKos, FireDogLake, Talking Points Memo and Op Ed News are examples of national interest blogs that started as small group collaborations of citizen journalists between 2002 and 2004, which now have national audiences.

Still other local Texas blogs like Democratic Blog News, Burnt Orange Report, Off the Cuff, and JobsAnger are more like the old small town print newspapers of century ago where the owner is the managing editor, senior reporter, typesetter, pressman and janitor.

Writing letters to the editor of the local traditional newspaper or writing comments on the newspaper's online articles are also good places for novice citizen journalist bloggers to hone their writing skills. For those who have a lot to say to world and who have the time, passion and journalistic experience to write, the best choice may be for those individuals to start their own blog.

The easiest way for someone to get started as a citizen journalist is to become a contributing writer for a blog already in publication. Many, but not all, blogs already in publication, whether of nation or local interest, invite their fellow citizens to contribute content. Each blog has its own editorial process and rules for citizens to contribute content on the blog.

Tips for iPhone Journalism

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