Thursday, May 6, 2010

Citizen Journalists and Street Cred

"The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. To a degree, people read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body." -- Warren Buffett

Students in Jour289i surveyed friends on technological use and opinions. One of the questions we asked was "Do citizen journalists have as much credibility as professionals?" The answer was an overwhelming "no." Later in the survey, the question "In the future, do you think citizen journalists will have as much credibility as professionals?" was raised. The answer changed in a positive manner. So although our peers do not believe that currently, citizen journalists have credibility, we do believe that in the future, things will change.

This instilled some serious curiosity in this citizen. Why? What is going to change that is leading today’s students to believe that in the future, we will have just as much credibility as people like Stephen Colbert.

I think it’s technology. Technology is making the difference. Technology is driving this change in belief and technology is enabling this change.

For years, amateurs have been sending in videos to news stations who were unlucky enough to miss “the story of the century,” which, in all the novels I’ve read, appears to occur every week which seems to be a bit counterintuitive but whatever. Back to my point. Amateurs, who happened to be in the right place at the right time, would catch the right video clip, whether on a professional video camera or your run-of-the-mill model. Whether they were looking for this opportunity or not, they happened upon it and they made news.

According to a 2009 Marist Poll, 87% of Americans have cell phones. How many of those cell phones have cameras capable of photo and video? I don’t have a number but I’m going to approximate: a lot. Every single one of these cell-phone owning Americans has the mobile ability to capture moments—to make news.

Here’s a personal example.

A recent Jour289i class assignment revolved around Maryland Day. For those of you who do not know, Maryland Day is an event, held at none other than the University of Maryland, where the University is open to visitors of all ages. Activities range from performing shows, campus tours, moon bounces and autograph sessions. It’s a blast and a half. This year, my classmates and I were given the task of travelling around campus, experiencing different aspects of Maryland day, and reporting back on it. Live. All. Day.

I had an iTouch, a camera, a cell phone and a rain coat, and I had a long day. But I learned something. My classmates and I provided (to my knowledge) the best available online coverage of Maryland Day. It may have been the only available online coverage of Maryland Day, but still, it counts for something, right? I was a citizen journalist. I tweeted, I uploaded pictures, I interviewed performers, visitors and volunteers. Isn’t that credible? So I’m not a professional, and Maryland Day may not be a big deal—but what’s preventing my (and my classmates’) coverage of Maryland Day from being credible? The fact that we’re students? The fact that we weren’t paid to do it? (unless you count a pass/fail grade…) I’m not sure. I don’t really see the difference between the information and materials that I provided, and the information and materials that a professional could have provided.

Here’s another story, free of bias since I didn’t participate and I didn’t write it. I’m just reporting.

This CNN article, “Citizens monitor Gulf Coast after oil spill” tells the story of an MIT student trying to make a difference. Jeffrey Warren is walking up and down the Louisiana coast “holding a kite string that’s tethered to a helium-filled trash bag and a point-and-shoot camera.” Sounds ridiculous, but he’s doing it anyway. Why? Because the professional satellites that we have covering the oil spill are really freakin far away, and the pictures they take and the efficiency with which they take them are just not that helpful. So citizen journalist Warren is doing his part and documenting the accident himself. I give him credibility, but I’m not a pro.

To sum up my longest blog post in a while: This class has taught me to be a citizen journalist. To create news. To efficiently and effectively produce credible content. To utilize various social media tools in correlation with different technological toys like digital cameras and iPods. Am I credible?

Well, you just read this whole thing—didn’t you?

Happy Thursday :)

No comments:

Post a Comment