No I’m not proposing we kill citizen journalists or even their activity, just the name. It’s too broad, it’s too confusing and it’s frequently misused.
Take this article from journalism.co.uk on denying press card to citizen journalists. The issue stems from “citizen journalism” site Demotix who issued it’s own press passes to writers with 10 approved articles or more. The NUJ kicked up a fuss and got self-righteous about “professional” journalism.
Citizen journalism is too loosely defined. Taking a picture of a riot and posting it to twitter is considered citizen journalism yet hyperlocal news sites are considered examples of it too.
There’s such a massive gulf between these two examples that the term becomes meaningless and one that is easy to attack by orgs like the NUJ. It’s easy to condemn the upper echelons by highlighting the faults of someone with a smartphone sending photos to twitpic.
We should not define hyperlocal writers as bloggers, hobbyists or citizen journalists. They’re independent journalists. They’re just as valid, and in many cases more valid than the local print press.
They should have the same access to councils, MPs and other public officials as the local rag. They should work with and be protected by the NUJ. Sites like these are the open source of the journalism world. Trying new techniques and new models and should not be shunned. The media. industry should be rewarding it, embracing it and copying what works.
Those who document life and events with smartphones are our social documenters. Because that’s what it is. Without analysis, context or accountability it’s not journalism. It’s still a powerful form of communication but to band it as a form of journalism makes it easier to attack when it should be embraced.