Why Be a Citizen Journalist?

Originally posted 2010-04-16 17:59:17 -0400. Crossposted from RonRossToday. Bumped and promoted. Please give Dr. Ross a hearty welcome. We're happy to have him posting with us. :) -- GH

“What are you going to do when you grow up?” you ask your kids.

Most children don’t have a clue, so they answer with “fireman,” “policeman,” “doctor” or other such highly visible and seemingly exciting occupation. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a child answer, “Journalist! I want to be a journalist!” The idea to be a journalist usually comes a little later as they experience their world and see the vast variety of career choices they actually have.

But why be a journalist? Here are four possible motives for being a journalist, and more particularly, a citizen journalist.

Motive #1: To earn a living.

Anyone who has taken more than a modest look at journalism as a career has found that news reporting is not the way to great wealth. Most journalism jobs start out with very meager salaries, and with the current state of news companies, both broadcast and print, means that for the foreseeable future, salary growth will be very slow at best.

Unfortunately, pay for citizen journalists is usually less than that of professional journalists. Unless citizen journalists have their own blog or website and develop a tremendous following so they can attract advertisers or sponsors, they work for free or close to free. Many must fund their careers with other employment or by finding investors or donors.

Motive #2: To change the world.

You can find a plethora of websites, blogs, magazines, books, newspapers and other media designed to argue for a particular point of view, i.e., to change the world to think like the writers, producers and editors of that particular venue. That’s called advocacy journalism, and it’s an acceptable form of journalism, but it’s not genuine journalism.

If you become a citizen journalist to change the world, you have a tough road ahead of you as the world doesn’t change very fast. Think about it, few journalists in the history of journalism have changed their world. Here’s a test: name three journalists whose work made a significant difference – and you have to count Woodward and Bernstein as one. See what I mean?

Even those few brave citizen journalists who report from such dangerous places as Iran, Turkmenistan, Cuba and Zimbabwe keep the world informed, but little has changed within their own countries as a result of their reports. So it’s very difficult to change the world through journalism.

Motive #3: To shape the discussion.

This motive may be worthy, as it includes that increasingly popular word – discussion. The news today is becoming much more of a discussion than it has been historically. It wasn’t that long ago that what you read in the newspaper was the news of the day and the reader had no way to comment, argue, endorse or expand on a story.

Now you find email addresses just beneath the byline on most news stories in both print and Internet news products. Even broadcast news entities seek viewer feedback like never before. I like that, because now I can send the writer or producer my view, correct his/her facts, offer my opinion or otherwise participate in a discussion. And it works. Just today I read a news item on the Washington Post website that had 147 comments.

Citizen journalists with blogs, websites, comments, emails and other ways to post their news now help to shape the discussion with their reports, videos, podcasts, YouTube offerings, etc. I say, “More power to them!”

Motive #4: To report news accurately and objectively.

Of all the motives to be a citizen journalist, this one is my favorite. But like making money or changing the world as a journalist, this motive portends a tough road.

The public does not perceive the news media to be very trustworthy, according to more than two decades of Pew Research surveys that covered 1985-2009. They found that in 2009 only 29% of Americans believed that news organizations generally got the facts straight, while 63% said that news stories are often inaccurate. They compared that to 1985 when 55% of Americans said news stories were accurate while 34% said they were inaccurate.

Our world needs individuals dedicated to fairness and accuracy at every level of journalistic expression. Citizens can pick up the ethical slack left by the mainstream media. It’s an uphill climb, but a climb that I think is worthy of your best effort.

Here’s why: The whole world is looking for fairness, accuracy and clarity in news reporting. They are tired of bias, baloney and blunders. They want the news, and they want it well sourced and fairly reported.

If citizen journalists meet this crying need, they will be successful beyond their wildest dreams. And in the process, they will shape the discussion, change the world and who knows, maybe even make a good living.

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and thanks for the post.

You bring up an interesting discussion.  ePluribus Media has always encouraged ethics and fairness in reporting.  Our Citizen Journalist Toolbox contains many links and tons of information for anybody interested in honing their skills as a journalist.

I think our outrage, frustration and dismay with the current state of affairs inspires some good rants, but some really good reporting comes out of the group here at ePluribus Media.

Our archived Journal site contains some great original articles by the ePluribus team.

Anyway ... thanks for sharing.Cool

I see you've already made Roxy's acquaintance.

I promoted this to the front page and included a link back to your site as well. Many thanks for posting with us.

Are you familiar with ePluribus Media?

I didn't bump it yesterday was because I thought Unenergy's piece deserved some front time for views.

This is a great piece and thanks for posting it, Dr. Ross, here we can relate to to every aspect of the piece. Those who are working on longer more researched pieces are doing it for nothing but the interest of digging deeper for the public's good. Nobody is getting paid and what little money comes in goes towards bandwidth, FOI requests, etc..

I don't think anybody here begrudges people for trying to earn a living at it - whether successful or not - but I know that, for myself personally, it was always about trying to make a bit of difference. I can say for certain that I would not be blogging about political issues if I did not think something was seriously wrong in American politics.

One of my favorite things about the Blogosphere is that when you read something from most Bloggers of Citizen Journalists you know up front from where they are coming from. This is true fro most of the left and right. Even the most blatant piece of cheer leading for a particular side of an issue can always be read taking into consideration the grain of salt of whom is writing it from a more open perspective of what they represent in most cases.

In our local Connecticut Blogosphere there are some of us on both sides - left and right - that cheer on the "other side" when they are chasing down legitimate corruption. Even the less non-partisan and less objective Bloggers on the net can serve a function, IMHO, because some issues transcend ideology, party affiliation, etc..

Just my two cents.

And, again, thanks for sharing this. :)

In Korea OhmyNews  was created because the media under pressure from the government would self censor the news not report unfashionable news. 

Thanks for the link to OhmyNews -- wow, they've been 'round for 10 years?

That's cool!

at the time of this comment to get it a few more reads. Because this diary is about what so many of "us" do.

I agree with this wholeheartedly : "Motive #4: To report news accurately and objectively."

It is because of a speech by Bill Moyers, I think at the National Press Club a couple of years ago, that I choose to write. And it really does come down to this:

I was reminded of a story from folk lore about the tribal elder telling his grandson about the battle the old man was waging within himself.
He said, "My son it is between two wolves.
One is an evil wolf: anger, envy, sorrow, greed, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.
The other is the good wolf: joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The boy took this in for a few minutes and then asked, "Which wolf won?"
His grandfather answered, "The one I feed."
So, too, America's public life. The wolf that wins is the wolf we feed.
Media provides the fodder.

I like to think that independent journalists, in many cases, write from a deep sense of seeing and actually believing in what is right to them without the complications of corporate dollars driving their writing, language or conclusions. There is an honesty which you just will not see in whichever corporate owned news outlet, due to editors, not offending advertisers and in many cases, the wish to try to drive the narrative to the left or to the right.