One door closes and another opens
The Internet has opened the doors to new ways of sharing information. Traditional news media have struggled to compete, and financial stresses have resulted in many changes, including staff reduction (Rogers, 2015). In the midst of this evolution, coverage of community news has dwindled. The same technology that has crippled mass media has enabled citizen journalism to fill this need—defined as “the reporting of news events by members of the public using the Internet to spread the information” (Technopedia, n.d.). Citizen contributors report on events and issues that are not being covered by mainstream media. Ordinary citizens provide news—many of them professional—and they are held to the same ethical standards as traditional journalists.
Dr. Lee Becker—a blogger and citizen journalist—demonstrates an excellent example of how citizens can apprise their communities with information that may not be publicized in any other way. A former journalist, Becker currently directs academic research projects on mass media. He has written two books and published numerous scholarly articles (Cox International Center, n.d.). Although he is not a practicing journalist, his background and dedication to the field make him more than qualified to generate the content for his local blog, Oconee County Observations (Becker, n.d.). As a citizen of his county since 1997 (Blogger, n.d.), Becker strives to inform the community of issues and events in an “accurate, fair and transparent” way—indicating that his stories adhere to the standards of the SPJ Code of Ethics (2014). In addition to news, he provides a forum for community members to express their thoughts and ideas. Becker is a responsible, quality blogger, and provides objective news reporting that empowers his community. But is blogging journalism? Andrews writes, “Calling a typical blogger a journalist is like calling anyone who takes a snapshot a photographer” (Andrews, 2003, pg. 63). However, good bloggers—those who verify facts, provide fair accounts, and follow ethical standards—are credible and can supplement the work of professional journalists (Rogers, 2015; Andrews, 2003). Research in this area has shown that community newsreaders value citizen journalists, as well as professional journalists, for local news (Nah & Chung, 2012).
In addition to citizens covering local issues, they can also partner with professional journalists to produce more meaningful stories. The Times-Picayune won two Pulitzer Prizes in 2006 for coverage of Hurricane Katrina (Carr, 2010). Gillmor (2005) credits this to the collaboration of professional journalists and non-professional citizen journalists. In its contest entry, the newspaper noted that they could not have done this work without them, “Our citizen reporters were as essential to this coverage as our staff and more essential than the standard human sources we have always relied on to tell us what is happening and why” (as cited in Gillmor, 2005, pg. 11). As conventional media continue to expand their resources with the use of citizen contributors, this alliance can strengthen the credibility and authenticity of both traditional and citizen journalism.
Andrews, P. (2003). Is blogging journalism? A blogger and journalist finds no easy answer, but he discovers connections. Nieman Reports, 57(3), 63. Retrieved from http://1e9svy22oh333mryr83l4s02.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/03fall.pdf
Becker, L. (n.d.). Oconee County Observations. [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.oconeecountyobservations.org/
Blogger: Lee Becker. Retrieved from https://www.blogger.com/profile/01090575389824190943
Carr, M. (2010, April 5). The Times-Picayune’s Hurricane Katrina coverage among top ten works of journalism the past decade. The Times-Picayune. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf/2010/04/the_times-picayunes_katrina_co.html
Cox International Center: Dr. Lee B. Becker. Retrieved January 20, 2016 from http://www.grady.uga.edu/coxcenter/Administration/Lee_B_Becker/Lee_Director.php
Gillmor, D. (2005). Where citizens and journalists intersect. Nieman Reports, 59(4), 11.
Nah, S., & Chung, D. S. (2012). When citizens meet both professional and citizen journalists: Social trust, media credibility, and perceived journalistic roles among online community news readers. Journalism, 13(6), 714-730. doi:10.1177/1464884911431381.
Rogers, T. (2015, September 9). Can bloggers replace professional journalists? Retrieved from http://journalism.about.com/od/trends/a/bloggersjournalists.htm
SPJ Code of Ethics. (2014) [Poster]. Indianapolis, IN: Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved from http://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics-poster.pdf
Technopedia. (n.d.). Citizen journalism. Retrieved on January 22, 2016 from https://www.techopedia.com/definition/2386/citizen-journalism