There are no such things as Citizen Journalists

A re-tweet by @ajkeen alerted me to this classic example of social media comprehension failure i.e. the inability to understand the future unless it is dressed in the clothes of the past.   Everything about this article and the “No News”  initiative is muddleheaded but I would focus on two aspects – its idea that there is such a thing as a Citizen Journalist and the quote of Albert R. Hunt that “Most scandals and revelations of corruption are exposed by newspapers.” with the assertion that this is because “internet outlets” (whatever they are) don’t have the resources to do this.

Lets be clear Citizen Journalists don’t exist.  I defy anyone to find me a person who describes themselves thus.  Citizen Journalists exist only in the minds of traditional journalists as a way of describing (and usually denigrating) a process of information sharing done by ordinary people.  For example, the man who took the picture of the floating US Airways jet on the Hudson River – something frequently cited (by the traditional media) as an example of Citizen Journalism, did not get up that moring thinking to himself, what news stories am I going to pursue today.  Neither, having had his picture broadcast around the world, did he go to bed seeing himself as a photojournalist.  He was just someone in the right place, at the right time, with the ability to record and broadcast what he was seeing.  He was a Citizen Journalist for precisely the amount of time it took to take the picture and send it to TwitPic – lets say for 15 minutes in order to neatly reference the Andy Warhol quote.

The term Citizen Journalist is used because traditional journalists refuse to see that the function of the mass sharing information can be conducted in any way except through the instututionalised function of the media and its category of Journalist.  It is the same comprehension failure that applied in the early description of a motor car as a horseless carriage.

Turning now to the Albert R. Hunt assertion.  His claim that “ Most scandals and revelations of corruption are exposed by newspapers” is true except for his application of the present tense.  I would be willing to bet that now 90% of scandals and revalations of corruption will surface first within social media before being exposed by the traditional media.  As for his definition of the term “internet outlet” this is another straw man in the manner of citizen journalist.  The internet outlets he believes don’t have the respources to do investigative journalism don’t have the resources because they don’t exist.  There is no such thing as an internet outlet, this is simply an attempt to cloth the process of information sharing within social media in an institutionalised form, in order to then set fire to it.

Social media doesn’t need resources, because it doesn’t have to pay investigative journalists.  It taps straight to the source of news and can produce meaning through a process that does not rely on institutionalised mediation.  That’s what it is about.  That’s it whole point.   That is its threat – to traditional journalism.  To look at the example Hunt used, that of exposure of the treatment of veterans at the Walter Reed medical centre, it is now almost certain that a similar issue would emerge first within the social media space as a direct result of the contributions of those actually involved and probably would have assumed its essential shape and character as a “story” well before moving onto the radar of the traditional (mass) media.  In fact I would be willing to bet that this particular veterans issue will have a trail this is detactable within social media well before revealed as an “exclusive” by investigative journalists from the NY Times.


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