The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Something is brewing in journalism

I am up to my digital derriere in a project to write a “definitive” paper on cititizen journalism. The problem with “definitive” is that, well, it’s not very definitive. My mind has raced back and forth over the various aspects of this phenomenon that have either pleasantly surprised me, met my expectations or sideswiped both me and the journalism world.

clyde-tea.jpgLast week I had the good fortune to get the journalist’s traditional source of inspiration: A new and very short deadline. The Donald W. Reynolds Institute at Mizzou asked me to knock out a quick look at citizen journalism for its Web site. Isn’t it amazing how much better you can write with an editor breathing down your throat?

So here it is, right out of the microwave: A nice cuppa CJ:

It’s difficult to imagine two words that have caused more anxiety among news media professionals than “citizen journalism.” There have been endless arguments over what the term means, who it includes and whether it will kill or save the American new industry.

For the past four years, a team at the Missouri School of Journalism has studied citizen journalism from the closest of quarters. Although we were all traditional journalists and all professional skeptics, we followed the “do it to learn” philosophy of the world’s oldest journalism school and launched on Oct. 1, 2004. Aimed at the community around the University of Missouri rather than the school itself, MyMissourian features content written by non-journalists but lightly edited by the staff. We then insert a selection of the content in the free-circulation Saturday print edition of the Columbia Missourian.

Four years later, I’m very comfortable with both the citizen journalism concept and the phrase, but I’m still frustrated that my colleagues have such difficulty with it.
Citizen journalism is no more a replacement for traditional journalism than teabags are a replacement for water. Both can stand alone comfortably, but when combined they produce something quite wonderful.

The “citizen” in the term is a continual irritant to news people, who complain that it implies they are excluded from citizenship. Wrong definition of citizen. The better analogy is “citizen soldiers” — the militia and National Guard that serve our country “part time.” As my chief warrant officer father explained, Guard members want to help shoulder the responsibility of defending the nation – they just don’t want make a career of it.

Similarly, citizen journalists don’t want newsroom jobs – they just have something to say. And often they want to say it because those of us on the professional side are too busy with the big stories to see the little items that mean so much to people. It’s unlikely citizen journalists will ever effectively cover Congress, but they sure get their neighbors’ attention with tales of pets, kids and community activities.

Our research continues to show that citizen journalism expands the range of topics available in the mass media as it expands the range of voices. And the team – now known as the Cyberbrains – is confident that the recipe for the future of news is to drop that citizen journalism teabag right into that boiling pot of newsroom water. The resulting brew, as Thomas Lipton said, is more than good. It’s “brisk.”


April 8, 2008 - Posted by | Clyde Bentley

1 Comment »

  1. […] Something is brewing in journalism. A very nice Clyde Bentley report on citizen journalism. Includes this lovely line: “Citizen journalism is no more a replacement for traditional journalism than teabags are a replacement for water. Both can stand alone comfortably, but when combined they produce something quite wonderful.” […]

    Pingback by Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Thursday squibs | April 10, 2008 | Reply

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