by Pirongrong Ramasoota
Is citizen journalism fad or future?
The above question was raised to a group of international scholars and professionals in journalism from 17 countries at the E.W.Scripps School of Journalism to kick off a lively discussion on one of the most daunting questions facing the Journalism discipline.
These 17 media educators from every continent are participating in the Studies of the United States Institute (SUSI) on Media and Journalism at Ohio University. The program is supported by the US Department of State.
Professor Hans Meyer who posed the question kicked off the discussion by showing clips of the Daily Show 's John Stewart satirical look at CNN's citizen reporting project -- iReport.
From the case of CNN iReport, a number of questions ensued and were intensely debated among the participants. Among these questions are: whether citizen journalists will steal reporters' job, whether they will be able to provide all the coverage as would professional journalists, and whether citizen journalism is the kind of reportage that the people really want.
The debate gravitated towards questioning the quality and value of citizen journalism and whether a constructive co-existence can be forged between traditional professional journalism and citizen journalism.
Some participants offered slightly different view, pointing out to the benefits of citizen journalism in enhancing the coverage in angles and points of access that journalists could not have. Meanwhile, Professor Meyer added that journalism has always been a citizen endeavor and that from the beginning of US history, journalists are not supposed to be professionals, in the same sense as doctors, and lawyers.
Meyer also pointed out to how citizen journalism can serve underserved communities as would be the objective of civic journalism strongly advocated at the turn of the millennium to supplant the flaws of objective but socially detached journalism. In essence, civic or public journalism is meant to build, support, strengthen, and sustain community. This is not distant from what citizen journalism is supposed to achieve.
No matter what we label this practice or discipline of crafting news and disseminating facts and opinion to the public, citizen journalism has always existed. The arrival of the Internet only helps remove barriers to entry and make it more prevalent to public perception.
The most important thing that citizen journalism reinforces is that journalists need to care and to reconnect with their audience. It also debunks the notion that journalists can be truly objective and unbiased in their reporting and that journalism can be an individual endeavor, rather than institutionalized.