Story location:

July 14, 2008

A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism

It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the "so-called" from in front?

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

There are other definitions, but they will have to be discussed in the comments.

… And here’s the video version, “Got it?” by Chuck Olsen for The Uptake (“Will journalism be done by you or to you?”). YouTube has a thread for it.

* * *

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

See also on this subject a newer post. If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn’t. So Let’s Get a Clue.

Portuguese blogger, journalist and new media person Alexandre Gamela reacts at his blog: “What really stands out is the absence of the middle man.”

American blogger, journalist and new media person Ryan Sholin in the comments: “I think to inform each other is the crucial piece of business.”

Yeah. If a definition can have a strategy, mine is to eliminate any reference to the news media as pipe through which current information vital to the public has to flow.

Lisa Williams in the comments: “I named the site I run Placeblogger in part as a reaction to the term ‘citizen journalism’…”

This post began on Twitter, where the tight restrictions of the form—140 characters, no more—make you make nice with concise. Twitter is a micro-blogging service where you follow people’s 140-character updates and they follow you. To see my Twitter feed go here.

Wikipedia says citizen journalism is:

The act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information,” according to the seminal report “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information,” by Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis… Citizen journalism should not be confused with civic journalism, which is practiced by professional journalists. Citizen journalism is a specific form of citizen media as well as user generated content.

“What became known as citizen journalism is the result of the digital era’s democratization of media.” Dan Gillmor in a post he put up today, after a journalist asked him if he knew “who coined this term and when it entered the mainstream media.”

Not all citizen media is citizen journalism. Most is not.

As to who coined it first in its current, digital-age meaning, or at least came closest, I’m not sure there either. But I’d start with Oh Yeon Ho, founder of Korea’s OhmyNews, who said back in antiquity (2000) that “Every citizen is a reporter.” Mr. Oh is one of the real pioneers in this arena, as we would all agree.

I certainly would. He’s one of the founders of the form.

Andy Dickinson has got it. “Jay’s definition is about defining the activity and not its relationship to the media.” That it can happen without the media may be the reason the media cannot get a grip on it. And he asks: is user generated content dead, as some are saying?

Picking up on my definition of citizen journalism, the Rising Voices project of Global Voices Online lists some fine examples of how enterprising people in the developing world “employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”

Heights Observer, a place blog in Shaker Heights, Ohio, says: “This publication, and particularly the way it is produced, fits the definition of citizen journalism coined by media analyst Jay Rosen…”

Invaluable if you’re trying to get your mind around it: Steve Outing, The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism. His post is “designed to help publishers and editors understand citizen journalism and how it might be incorporated into their Web sites and legacy media.”

The parallels between citizen journalism and similar shifts in education are explored here. A bit more here.

And how have pro journalists reacted to citizen journalism?

“When the people formerly known as Christians employ the spiritual gifts they have been given to reach the lost, that’s missional evangelism.” Link.

Observe how the “so-called” tick works. This is from the PBS Newshour, with producer Jeffrey Brown:

For old and new institutions alike, the action is increasingly moving online. USA Today, with the nation’s largest circulation, combined its print and online newsrooms. And it, like other organizations, is incorporating more elements of reader-generated so-called citizen journalism. (Jan. 2007)

There, “citizen journalism” is something the media is doing more and more of.

PC mag in its encyclopedia of IT terms says citizen journalism means:

News and commentary from the public at large. Using wiki sites and blogs, anyone can contribute information about a current event. Also known as “collaborative citizen journalism” (CCJ), “grassroots media” and “personal publishing,” the concept behind citizen journalism is that many volunteers help to ensure that the information is more accurate than when it is being reported from only one source.

Daniel Bennett says my definition needs some adjustment:

I think it might be worth adding emphasis on publication by including the word “many” and also sticking in the phrase “an event deemed to be newsworthy” or for brevity just ‘a newsworthy event’. Here’s my stab at it:

“When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform many others of a newsworthy event, that’s citizen journalism.”

Some similar advice from PeriodismoCiudadano (CitizenJournalism) in Spanish.

Leonard Witt: “Jay, is this definition the first step in clealy articulating citizen journalism as a journalistic philosophy in its own right? It would be nice.”

The BBC Radio 4 program, “Anaylsis” did a half-hour on the connection between the “public journalism” movement of the 1990s and the situation today with the press and citizens media. Kevin Marsh, the former editor of the Today program and now an executive with the BBC’s College of Journalism, hosted and thought it through. I was interviewed. So was Charlie Beckett, the UK’s leading explicator of networked journalism. Here is how the program ends:

…Reinvention, migrating the tribe, re-skilling to share the news business with former readers. Whatever you call it and whichever way you slice it, the press has a job on its hands and the finances of news mean time isn’t on its side. But it might just be that the public journalism movement in pre-web America got it more right than they earned credit for. Maybe, in the end, it will be the public that saves the press for the public.

You can listen here. Here’s the transcript.

Posted by Jay Rosen at July 14, 2008 1:37 AM