Giving professionals a bad name
An editorial on The Digital Journalist site, entitled Let’s Abolish ‘Citizen Journalists’ argues that journalism is being undermined by the presence of people who report on news but aren’t on the payroll (or freelance roster) of a recognized news organization.
It goes further, claiming that news organizations are digging their own graves: “Because of declining revenues, newspapers, magazines and TV stations actually think they can get these ‘volunteers’ to replace the professionals.”
First, in 30 years in journalism, I have never heard of any news manager seriously considering such a thing, let alone doing it. (I suspect that the perspectives of The Digital Journalist are colored by its heavy focus on photojournalism, and yes, citizen photos/video have made news. But who sees that as a coverage strategy?)
More troubling to me is that this editorial reinforces the age-old canard that all journalists are members of some kind of priesthood. The editorial cites Afghanistan and the White House as venues where citizen journalists will never tread. True enough. But how many professional journalists will go to Afghanistan or the White House, regardless of their credentials? And how many professionals will attend the local school board meeting, compared to public-sprited “amateurs?”
There are too many shades of “professional journalist” to allow any blanket description. Professionals can be hacks, and amateurs can serve the public interest.
The comments on Let’s Abolish ‘Citizen Journalists’ do a fine job of picking at its arguments, so please check them out, especially Howard Owens’ reminder that “citizen journalism” is how journalism got started in the first place.
My main problem with the priesthood attitude is that journalism needs all the help it can get, professional or not. “Professional” news organizations are in economic whitewater right now, unable to reinvent themselves fast enough to fulfill their public-service.
Anyone who cares about the importance of a free press in a democracy should support and encourage journalists, professional or not. If you’re a professional, good for you. Strive for excellence, strive to advance the public interest, and hopefully someone will pay you. If you’re not a professional, well, same goes for you.
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