Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Do you Prefer Citizen or Professional?

Who do you trust more to provide you with current news and events? In the book Citizen Journalism, we read that based on a survey conducted by Edelman PR, people trusted their friends and peers. However, this book is a few years old and more recent surveys done by Edelman PR (conducting annual surveys for the past ten years) is showing that percentage of trusting peers, or “people like me” dropped from 47 to 27.

So what does this mean for citizen journalism? Well to answer that, we need to take a deeper look into what it means to be a citizen journalist.
With so many new technologies available on the market today, it’s much easier to get the tools that aid in becoming a citizen journalist. This can include using your cell phone or a pocket camcorder (I use the Kodak Zi8) to take video footage of wars or natural disasters and upload those videos to different news stations. Citizen, a.k.a. amateur, journalists also contribute to society through different online forums, blogs, and community posts.

When reading through the Citizen Journalism book, I found how different types of people use the Internet to relate to the rest of the world. When reading through chapter eight, Blogging the Climate Change in Antarctica, I was surprised to learn that the bloggers were scientists. Since most scientists have their own “scientific language”, the thought of them blogging seems bizarre. However, these men and women were able to use their personal field-work stories to relate to the rest of the world.  This caused a fan-base that the scientists were not expecting since the original idea of the blog was meant for educational purposes.

Many people use blogs though, not just scientists. Some people use blogging as a way to vent their frustration while others use it as a way to keep distant family updated on their lives. It seems as though there are more and more reality television stars creating blogs as well. In most cases, those are used for follow up stories that the half-hour/hour series didn’t show…or for that person to explain their side of a situation or argument. Although this keeps viewers tuned in to the mini-celebrity, these stories are not considered news.

Over the past several years, citizen journalism became the “hero” in a sea of wrongful news. When popular news outlets were reporting news in such a way that portrayed a certain group of people in a bad light, when in fact it was just the opposite, most people turned to the Internet for the citizen’s viewpoint. Many people began searching YouTube for amateur video footage for the real stories.

Citizens on the scene in Japan during the 2011 tsunami recorded video footage of the actual wave. By the time most reporters got there, it was just water. Without the citizen video footage, no one would have seen what really happened.

This happened in 2008 when the Tibetan Riots were happening in China. CNN released a photo of what appeared to be the Chinese Military trampling the Tibetans’ human rights. When the real photo surfaced, it showed that the photo was cropped and the Tibetan people were getting violent with the Chinese Military. So American news took a bad rap because of making China, a once very restricted country, look like such a harsh place.

Cropped photo on the left: Real photo on the right

The photo sparked outrage with the Chinese people and a young student named Jin Rao took to the Internet. He created a website called Anti-CNN.com. From that point forward, he challenged the media’s credibility, but mainly when the topic was focused on China. In this way, the citizen journalism was revealing truth. However, there are many false stories in amateur journalism. How many times can you think about an instance where you were on the Internet and an article, picture, or video popped up with a caption that read something like: “Man captures Bigfoot on video” or “Lockness monster really exists: Click for Photo!” All of these turn out to be fake or fabricated pictures.

So, even though there is an upside to citizen journalism, there’s also a downside. CNN was under fire again about a year ago when a citizen posted to CNN iReport that Steve Jobs, Apple Co-Founder/Chairman, had a heart attack. When that one false story got spread around, people panicked on Wall Street and stock began dropping. CNN took scrutiny for it and tried to explain that iReport is citizen-based and cannot be 100% filtered for false stories.

 This boils down to ethics. The men and women that study journalism know there is a strict code of ethics to follow, while many citizen journalists have no knowledge of that code. However, I advise any amateur wanting to get involved in online sites like iReport to study up a bit on what’s right and wrong to post.

So who can we trust to deliver our news? After thinking about it, I’d say about half and half. The difference between a professional journalist and an amateur one is the professional puts their name out on the line for the public, and in doing so, also takes the heat when something is reporting incorrectly. The amateur can post as an anonymous person and never feel the backlash of a wrongful post. Professionals do train to perform their jobs in a better manner.

As people and media consumers, we have to take into consideration that no one person is going to be accurate all the time. People make mistakes; some purposely and some accidentally. We need to have a filter in our head to spot the stories that seem wrong, and the will-power to check many different sources for the most accurate story, including those citizen journalist sources. And just remember, without both professional and amateur journalists, we would have nothing.

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