Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - Citizen Journalism

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News organizations have not done well by journalism - they've done a good job of destroying the news themselves to preserve margins.

Making entertainment out of conversation with citizens, taking the sound bite further than any tweet I've read in the last year.

I've seen all the best writers disappear from the columns of local newspapers. Because to pay for that news you're forced to buy paper, or have it delivered. What happens when most people read their news online?

Access is important, as is ethics and being passionate about a chosen profession. Not too many go down that route today. The real story is harder to notice even in main stream media these days.

We're both generalizing, of course. It's not so black and white. There is indeed a price to pay. It looks like a wholesale mortgage and it's payable on the future. None of this negates the fact that much of what described by the speakers is happening.

One more thing about citizen journalists: they covered the collapse of the economy. But I can't think of any who predicted it*. Who had the investigative resources to go interview people at the Fed, at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, at the ratings' agencies.

Citizen journalists are good in limited contexts. Let's not go overboard and assume they're a replacement for good, solid, investigative journalism.

Let's not chase down a path the right (or left) wing pundits would so dearly love for us to cantor off down.

Democracy relies on the Fifth Estate. Let's not replace it so hastily with an emasculated version that seems better. Simply because no one gets paid?

Carolyn Ann

The new citizen journalist will miss the Pentagon Papers. The Profumo Affair, and they will fail to follow the money, because to do so might be too dangerous. (Ask Bernstein and Woodward about that...) As such they will miss Watergate.

The citizen journalist will catch the next Sarah Palin or Mark Sanford; the next John Ensign? Maybe not so much.

A journalist in Britain has a certain level of protection against the Official Secrets Act, but a blogger does not. Nor does any British blogger have the power, the connections and acumen to develop a story like the BBC Papers one. Some might, naively, argue that the current "D-Notice" practice will become outmoded - I argue that it will be replaced by a more formal system that includes jail time for any blogger deemed to be revealing state secrets.

Citizen journalists will succeed when they band together to produce the quality of journalism, true, proper, investigative journalism - not just opinionated regurgitation of what others' say - we see in newspapers like the NY Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Le Monde and a very few others. The Huffington Post need not apply to join such exalted ranks; it's more akin The Sun and New York Post.

The problem with citizen journalists is that there is no leader, no boss saying "I don't care, get me the story!" There's no editor screaming about mangled English, nor moaning about mangled contacts. No one is teaching bloggers how to do the job journalists do - bloggers simply assume, based on a few easy successes, that they know everything there is to know about journalism. Personally, I'd like to ask Bob Woodward about investigative journalism. Can you imagine a blogger being granted access the President, in the same way that Bob Woodward was allowed access to George Bush?

Bloggers serve a social purpose, but they - so far - have not proven worthy of taking over the role of investigative journalists.

It's the nature of the beast, basically. Twitter doesn't count as journalism - it's, at best, sound bites. The average news blogger is so busy keeping up with the news, they have no time to actually go figure out the stories for themselves. So while they shout about their influence, they quietly destroy the very thing that gives them their credibility.

I'll venture a controversial point: I think that the destruction of the commercial news system is undermining our concept of democracy.

We are not creating a contemporary 18th century, pre-Revolutionary America, where a man with access to a printing press could influence history. We're creating a situation where a million voices profoundly say nothing worth hearing.

When I read a blog, I always keep in my mind that it's worth exactly the cost I paid for it. And that's from someone who argued Google should charge for Blogger, and is willing to pay the NY Times and The Guardian for what I read.

Contemporary ideas about citizen journalism rely on the dubious idea that information wants to be free. As I've said before: information is not sentient. It wants nothing. People just don't want to pay for information. Not even the information their future relies on.

Citizen journalism has an immediacy that make it relevant when a disaster strikes, when the Iranian police shoot a young woman, or when a cop strikes dead a homeless man in London. citizen journalism also includes passionate reports from Michael Jackson's memorial, or his funeral. I like the idea that the BBC admonished a reporter because she appeared emotional, when giving a report about impoverished children in the Darfur. It's not being heartless, it's being realistic, and providing the news without opinion. But that's not all that journalism is. Citizen journalists simply don't have the access to the power structures that exist to make any difference. As a result, the sensational becomes the success, and the real story is not even noticed.

Like I said: citizen journalism is a threat to democracy.

Carolyn Ann

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