Wednesday, November 15, 2006

BEYOND THE ONIONS: The pros and cons of citizen journalism

Ross McDermott

If you’ve been visiting on a regular basis since we launched back in October, you may have noticed a section on the site called Citizen J.

In a nutshell, this is a forum for everyday citizens to take the role of journalist, to document events and disruptions of the status quo – I like using that phrase – and have them published so they can be shared with the public.

Among professional journalists, there is much debate about the merits and validity of such a venue, and many of their concerns are valid.

Aside from the chance that some of the bigger publications will utilize this type of journalism to replace the work of the professional journalist, there is also concern that what members of the public report could be inaccurate, slanted to support a single-minded point of view, and/or downright fabricated.

So what is their point? For years now even professional journalists have reported inaccurately, with a slant, and yes, sometimes the things they report are downright fabrications. It happens – not a lot but it happens.

For the most part professional journalists are hard working, honest people, who take pride in their work and are diligent in ensuring that what they document and feed the public is accurate, objective, and most important of all, not fabricated.

It’s not the individual journalist we have to worry about deceiving us or leading us down a path that eventually leads to a Borg-like mentality where we will all be assimilated.

No, it’s the corporate masters who control the editorial content of the big newspapers and media agencies.

It’s the men and women who sit in ivory towers – so out of touch with the daily lives of the average Jane or Joe London – that filter the news we consume. They are the ones to be concerned about.

Citizen J is a slippery slope for some. But strangely enough, the corporate masters don’t see it as a threat. For them it’s one less slice from the bottom-line pie.

For journalists, it’s a threat to their livelihood. Yes, they may scoff at the mere mention of citizen journalism – “it’ll never fly” or “who would take that seriously.” But inside they know, especially if they work for a corporate master, cookie cutter news and free content is a big selling point for the movers and shakers in the publishing industry.

For Jane or Joe London, citizen journalism is a chance to become a part of the news-reporting process. And it’s really not that new.

Small community papers – what we in the biz call “weeklies” – have been using free, citizen-contributed content for a very long time because: (1) it fills the pages; (2) it’s one less slice out of the bottom-line pie; and (3) well, sometimes it’s the best read article in the paper.

Having said all this it’s time to point out there is only one reason has provided the Citizen J section, and it’s simple: we thought the public, that’s right – you, our boss – would like it.

As for the risk of inaccuracies, slanted opinions and fabrications, leave that to us. We will do our best to ensure that everything published in the Citizen J section is objective, true, and accurate. Opinions are for the Opinion section, and that’s the only place you’ll find them here at

Are we living on the edge or what?

Such is life: “We roll the dice, we takes our chances.”

That's all for now from Beyond the Onions.

Ross McDermott is the Editorial Director at London, Ontario's online news source -- "If you're on... you're in."