‘Citizen Journalism Is Dead!’ …

Well, I don’t think so — but Vincent Maher does, and says so in a provocative essay he’s just published. Maher is a teacher of multimedia journalism at the New Media Lab of Rhodes University’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies in South Africa. You may remember that I quoted him here recently complaining about the inadequacy and poor quality of citizen reporting during the recent London terrorist bombings.

Maher’s begins his thesis by saying that he had been a disciple of Gillmor, et al, but “at some point while throwing guillotined heads at the Old Media I stopped to take stock of what was happening on our side of the battle, whether anything better was being done and what I saw was astonishing.”

One problem he sees is the “broken telephone” issue. He cites himself as an example. After I quoted Maher on this blog on his views of London citizen reporting, others picked up on it, including The Guardian (U.K.) — which initially mangled his name and called him a “U.S. academic.” While that mistake was corrected, the Guardian‘s error nevertheless was repeated over and over as other “citizen” bloggers picked up on the not-yet-corrected item. Maher’s larger conclusion: The complete lack of checks and balances represents in citizen journalism “a twist of the truth wrapped in a false promise: that this blogging army is coordinated and uniform in its intentions. Forget it, you’ve been conned by an elite and persuasive group of pissed-off anti-paperians.”

I encourage you to read all of Maher’s essay to get the rest of his argument. Personally, I (still) count myself as a proponent of the concept and promise of citizen journalism (even though I’m still not in love with that phrase). But, frankly, most of the coverage of the “citJ” concept has been positive. I may not agree with Maher’s perspective, but I think it’s important to hear and consider the coherent voices of the doubters. And I’m more inclined to listen to someone like Maher who used to be a fan, than to traditional journalists who simply feel threatened by the citJ concept without giving it a real chance.

While I don’t buy Maher’s pessimism about citJ, I do agree with his statement: “The traditional media will and should adopt and use the forms of the New Media that work and assimilate them for better use within a structured environment, and bring some of that structure to them.” What he means, I think, is that citJ can be of value if some of the techniques of traditional journalism are applied. That can mean deploying professional editorial skills to vetting citizen submissions and drawing out the important stuff, for instance.

Meanwhile, I’m not giving up on my optimism and curiosity about how citJ will evolve. As I’ve said before, we’re in the very early stages of this. CitJ initiatives that employ community monitoring/editing rather than professional editors may yet prove to produce quality content. Some of the experimentation going on will bear fruit; I’m confident of that.

But citizen journalism dead? It’s barely out of infancy.

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