With mainstream journalism in the throes of downsizing and consolidation, many people, including myself are turning to blogs and other web sites for news.
A few years back, some "new media" entrepreneurs have attempted to harness the volunteer enthusiasm of bloggers to an electronic version of the "old media" newspaper. The result was something they call "citizen journalism".
One example of citizen journalism is Korea's Ohmy News.
One problem overlooked in all the hoopla about citizen journalism... what rights do citizen journalists have? How is working for free, not having your article fact-checked and edited, not being protected from angry readers, not being represented by a union and having no control over your work more desirable than being a paid, professional journalist?
Is the "new media" boss any better than the "old media" boss?
The Twin Cities Daily Planet is a local experiment in citizen journalism. In 2006, I was asked to be the Transportation Editor for the TCDP by former TCDP editor Craig Cox. I didn't actually edit anything because the TCDP is mostly a web portal through which articles from other publications, written mostly by paid, professional reporters were recycled.
I was asked to contribute articles (for free) that would appear in the mix of article produced by paid journalists. For that reason and others, I eventually ceased writing for the TCDP after writing many articles.
I was also asked by Craig Cox to "recruit" other citizen journalists to contribute content to the TCDP. I was reluctant to ask other people to volunteer their time and effort under conditions that I was uncomfortable with. I recruited only one person to contribute content for the Twin Cities Daily Planet.
I was shocked to learn many months later that the one person I recruited was being cited by Craig Cox... by name in a journalism review as an example of what had gone wrong with the TCDP's experiment in citizen journalism.
You can read Craig Cox's article in Harvard's Nieman Reports.
It starts off this way:
Late in July, when a former member of the Minneapolis City Council went on trial in a high-profile bribery case, I received an e-mail from a local community activist alerting me to a woman who was determined to sit through the entire proceedings and describe the finer points of a trial that was headline news in the Twin Cities media.
The former member of the Mpls City Council was Dean Zimmermann. The "activist' is me and Cox fails to mention that I was an "editor" at the TCDP. Failing to mention Zimmermann and myself by name, Cox goes on to name Liz McLemore:
I dashed off an e-mail to the blogger, a south Minneapolis political activist named Liz McLemore, and asked her if she would allow me to publish her courtroom chronicles for our Daily Planet readers.
...what follows is a bizarre, vicious attack on Liz McLemore that reads like a stereotypical 19th Century factory boss complaining about his workers:
The McLemore "scoop" is an object lesson in the way citizen journalists can captivate and confound editors trying to build and maintain the credibility of their publications while encouraging ordinary citizens to tell their story. Captive to the vagaries of personal schedules, political biases, and reportorial limitations, these amateur reporters can require delicate handling even as they bring greater passion than many veterans.
... Cox didn't contact either me or Liz McLemore before he wrote his screed. Liz McLemore and I contacted the editor of the Nieman Reports and she apologized for allowing Cox to slime Liz McLemore and posted McLemore's response on the Nieman Report site. McLemore sets the record straight and concludes with this:
But what of Cox's own lapses in the very article in which he reports mine? Cox explains that for many people, "the media remains a monolithic, authoritarian machine that holds little interest or importance in their daily lives." Perhaps this is one reason that so many have turned to bloggers. To regain a position of importance in our lives, the media must earn it. At the very least, the public has a right to demand that professional journalists adhere to the standards of truth, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, and fairness. I expect nothing less from Craig Cox. Too bad he has failed to deliver it.
Craig Cox is no longer the editor at the TCDP. Cox cross-posts political gossip from his Minneapolis Observer Ballot Box blog to his TCDP blog.
The new editor Mary Turck has taken over Cox's job of recruiting citizen journalists for TCDP. Turck recently yanked and re-wrote an article (after it was criticized by Mayor Rybak's flak-catcher).
My advice to anyone contemplating a career in citizen journalism is to stick to blogging where you are your own boss.