About that “Army of Citizen Journalists” Comment

The topic was the future of journalism, so I took a 12-year-old along to see how the world of news fits into his worldview. After listening to a panel of locals, Luke is not in the least interested. I’d be surprised if the meeting inspired any of the dozen or so students in attendance to set their sights on this new and changing profession. In fact, there was a serious discussion about whether journalism is a profession or an activity.

The panel, held at St. X and organized by the local SPJ, was lightly attended, maybe because U of L was thrashing St. John’s downtown. A handful of folks I know, like freelance journalist Cary Stemle, showed up to hear what Sarah Kelley, John Mura, Kathy Hostetter, Gabe Bullard and Shea Van Hoy had to say.

Luke found the discussion of getting a job in journalism uninspiring. Unpaid internships, low salaries, and no openings for anchors. To get a raise, you have to move, and you will likely have to start your career in Podunkville.

Though Bullard successfully used the word “kerfuffle” in an answer, and Hostetter talked about seeking people who had “the social grease and grit to tell stories,” the idea that working in journalism could be a fun and inspiring career was missing. Mura, after saying how little time he spends on reading clips and resumes before dismissing them, said there is always opportunity for the most ambitious. And then tried to figure out how to turn his phone off.

I didn’t expect this bunch to give any credence to independent operations, like this one, that exist outside the mainstream, but was a little taken aback when the blasting of blogs started.  Kelley expressed a mild discrediting of bloggers not affiliated with real new organizations, but Mura got my attention by saying this:

“I don’t see an army of citizen journalists replacing the industry.”

From Left: moderator Tom Peterson, LEO Editor Sarah Kelley, C-J multimedia editor John Mura, WAVE news director Kathy Hostetter, WFPL's Gabe Bullard and Shea Van Hoy, editor of Jeffersonville's Evening News

I don’t either, but it might also be wise to acknowledge that the role of citizen journalists is important, and for the students in attendance looking for ways to break into the business, that getting an internship at the newspaper isn’t the only route. Barriers to entry into journalism are lower than they’ve ever been, and anyone can gain credibility and followers simply by doing good work. And it’s not that hard for an enterprising reporter to beat the established media to an important story.

There was some high-minded talk of how important it is to get things right, and the panelists discussed all the safeguards in place to make sure things go out on the air that are right. And while we might make a mistake here and there (and immediately correct them), we still live in a world where primary news sources falsely report the death of a Congresswoman, where a newspaper gets the name of a small-town mayor wrong, and TV newscasts misspell Thursday.

Bullard, the only blog writer on the panel, acknowledged that the industry is shaking out in a way that a respected blog can now link to a competing news organization to give credit for good reporting in a way that no print or broadcast medium has ever done. That creates an opportunity for any story to go viral, even if it isn’t generated in the mainstream.

Mura also predicted that the era of free information on the web is coming to a close, saying he’s interested to see how the New York Times’ efforts to charge for content go. I don’t think so.

It’s more likely the era of high overhead in media organizations is ending. Layers of management and editors and huge buildings aren’t what produces quality journalism.  Sure, as the panel discussed, every news organization must have checks and balances in place and it’s important to check sources (through requiring three sources seems a bit excessive, Kathy). The storytelling that’s essential to driving home an audience comes from the individual doing the reporting, not whether or not you can get a job.

And it can just as easily come from an army of citizen journalists, like the one we’ve assembled here at LouisvilleKY.com, as it can from any newspaper or TV station.

That’s the message I’d have left with students, and it’s the one I told Luke over a meal at Chili’s afterward. Journalism, at its core, is about telling a good story in an entertaining way, while getting the facts right. And when you do that, it’s a pretty fun way to make a living.

5 Comments on "About that “Army of Citizen Journalists” Comment"

  1. Wish I’d been there — I have a strong interest (and opinions) in journalism at all levels. And you’re right — they are wrong about the “citizen journalist.”

    I have read posts at Daily Kos that were MUCH better researched and documented than much of the content of the Courier, for example. Journalistic standards don’t require a building, or even a salary — they simply require the writer to believe that the word “journalist” implies a certain dedication to truth-telling and objectivity.

    Considering the profit-driven, ideal-less landscape I currently see in most corporate journalism, we’d better hope there’s an army of citizen journalists ready to pick up the torch. Otherwise, this experiment in democracy called “United States” is going to fail and become just another oligarchy.

  2. I applaud and support thoughtful, creative writers, whether independent or connected. We need strong, effective journalism in whatever form it takes. In an era when the crooks are building the prisons and own many of the media outlets, someone has to say “What a minute!”

  3. Jackie Bentley | January 20, 2011 at 10:54 am | Reply

    Just a few, disconnected, points I would like to make:

    Is it an army of citizen journalists or, rather, a reverse big brother? Do we rely soley on corporate-run news organizations or, rather, collect our news and information from a variety of sources so as to balance our understanding of the events unfolding or have unfolded. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, all new media (if you can call it “new” now) are giving everybody the tools to keep on eye on what our politicians, business, and, yes (sometimes sadly), our neighbors are doing or not doing. Isn’t that how we base our democracy?

    Yes, speaking from experience, getting into the field of journalism some 20 years ago required many months of free work, then years of little pay and a lot of long hours, hard work, bad attitudes and cynicism. But if you truly believe in getting the truth out to the public, educating them about the FACTS, then it’s a calling, not a money-making, wealth building job.

    Grant it, we don’t save lives so we can’t take ourselves too seriously—which is where a few of our gatekeepers have fallen. Then an attitude of elitism and arrogance filter in and, bam, you have a producer, an editor, and writer or an anchor knowing what’s best for the the public to know or not know.

    Um, no. Just put out the facts. Let the public decide for themselves.

  4. Not sure if the gate is worth keeping on some days. I miss the Courier-Journal and the Louisville Times. Opinion is not news and the common denominator has fallen to a new low. Where to go? In the meantime, just spell their names right.

  5. LOUISE ~ After looking up Luddite, I unnrtseadd your comment. While personally I always eschew violence, I do unnrtseadd the point of the Luddite Movement and if we were in the 19th century, I might have peacefully espoused their cause. The loss of a job has devastating effects on the unemployed, their family and indeed all society.* * * In the 21st century, I truly enjoy new technologies, especially ones which facilitate connections between believers in SW! It connected us, Louise ~ all the way from the central coast of California to you in Canada! I love it!Amy-Lynne <

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