A Citizen Journalist is no more of a Journalist than someone who gives you good personal advice is a Citizen Psychiatrist. It might well be time to ditch the idea of Citizen Journalism and call it what is: a witness with a recorder.
That was the overarching sentiment brought forward by David Simon the author, journalist and writer who is best known as the writer and producer for the TV series, Homicide - Life On The Streets, and the executive producer and head writer for the HBO television series, The Wire. In what could well be one of the better pieces of Internet video content that I have seen in years, Simon speaks candidly in his presentation titled, The Audacity of Despair, at Berkeley University's Townsend Center for the Humanities on September 10th, 2008 about the newspaper industry, publishing, media and the Internet.
Journalists are trained professionals and add tremendous value to our society by doing more than just reporting on the "who", "what", "when", "where" and "how" of Journalism (Simon says any five-year-old can do that), by asking and seeking out the all important question: "why?" He questions why most major newspapers no longer explore the "why," but instead offer up filtered news that does not address the real issues. His conclusions are a stunning indictment of an industry more concerned with selling widgets over real journalism.
Yes, people can act as witnesses, and now with modern technology they can record text, images, audio and video and publish it, but this does not make them Journalists. Even journalists who no longer work at a newspaper and have chosen a self-publishing route still follow professional rules, values and ethics that are created and nurtured after years of practicing their profession and not bestowed to all simply because publishing is easy and free (and yes, we all know that this does not apply to all Journalists and that there are more than few rotten apples).
If you're at all curious about media and the publishing industry, Simon's take is very different and fascinating. The topic of what a Journalist is in today's society versus what Simon considers a "real Journalist" is coupled with his take on citizen journalism and makes this presentation well worth the watch. Back in May, I posted this: Is Witnessing The Same As Being A Journalist? asking similar (but not as direct) questions about who, really, is and should be considered a journalist in this day and age.
Final thought: after watching this presentation it made me realize (once again) how amazing the Internet truly is. Anyone is able to take part in a Berkeley University special presentation, share their thoughts and enjoy a piece of content that is probably only valuable to a very small segment of the overall population. The true power of the Internet is this: content finding the exact people it was meant to touch, move and inspire.
You can watch his presentation here: David Simon - The Audacity of Despair - Townsend Center For The Humanities (unfortunately, there is no "embed video" link).
Then, feel free to comment on whether or not you agree that Citizen Journalism is a farce?
(hat-tip to Hugh McGuire).