Death to “citizen journalism”

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 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.



Google News is killing the scoop


“I wish I could tell Google what a piece of shit its News service is.

Engadget editor, Joshua Topolsky, highlighted the failings of Google News with this tweet.  It concerns Engadget’s scoop of a number of leaked Dell mobile devices. Engadget broke the story, but where does it appear on Google News? First? Second? At the time of writing… eleventh.

It’s about provenance. Tech blogs like Engadget rely on their scoops to drive traffic. Gizmodo took the gamble on buying a lost/stolen iPhone prototype and generated insane page views.  If Google News isn’t recognising Engadget as the original source of the story and giving it “props” then it is fundamentally failing.

Don’t let new media distract from the fundamentals

In writing about the skills a future journalist will need it’s easy to dive into new media, innovation and the web.  The reality is for the most part they are distractions.

So much is assumed of the fundamentals of journalism.  The skills of “old” journalism are taken for granted when talking about the new.  Maybe it’s the arrogance of youth, but nothing can be assumed of these skills and in fact, they’re increasingly important.

The newsroom has changed.  Gone is the familiar structure of reporter, sub and editor.  In many newsrooms, such as Trinity Mirror Merseyside where I recently completed work experience, levels of sub editors have been reduced drastically. There is now much more onus on the reporter to sub their own work by writing to template and writing their own headings.

The killer app on your mobile – the phone bit.

My lecturer Andy Dickinson, coined this succinct phrase when speaking at the launch of the CNN mobile app at London’s Frontline Club. The telephone is a powerful journalistic tool, far more so than any twitter or email app on your mobile.  You’ll get much more out of your sources from having a chat than any email exchange. 

Shorthand is far from dead.  Many newsgroups will not employ you if you do not have shorthand.  For all the new media tools and audio recorders available to you, there’s many courtrooms and council meetings where they are not permitted. In cases of libel, shorthand notes are a protection where audiofiles may have been deleted.  There’s also technological and ethical problems with recording phone calls.

But new media and web innovation are important. They’re the added nth percent. They’re what will make you stand out as someone who is alert to the changes in journalism.  They’re excellent ways of consuming content and in a few cases have created great stories, but they’re no where close to usurping the old skills.