Elevating Citizens to Be Journalists or Journalists to Be Citizens?

    by Paul Lamb
    October 18, 2007

    It struck me as interesting yesterday when I heard a former reporter and journalism professor refer to training ordinary people to become journalists as “elevating” them. As a non journalist it made me wonder if that is how most professional journalists still view their work and trade – as being “elevated”? If this is a common view among journalists then no wonder it is proving so difficult for traditional journalism to come to grips with citizen journalists and the like? I wonder if indeed part of the mindshift that still needs to take place is not just citizens learning to use the tools of the journalism trade better, but journalists learning to dig in and learn more from average citizens and their authentic voices? Maybe some journalists need to be “elevated” too?

    Tagged: citizen journalism training
    • Amy Sample Ward

      I think part of the problem stems from the de-localization of our media. As we move forward with a grassroots-driven society, it becomes more and more important that our news/media/information be generated in a similarly local way or by similarly local participants. This can mean that the best journalist for a story is not a part of a news team or a media outlet but a citizen with expertise or experience or locality. We even see this in the uprising of bloggers and the changes taking place in the run-up to elections and other major events as citizens want to know what their local, trusted “journalist” thinks and says and not necessarily what a nationally syndicated news outlet reports.

    • Paul, excellent observation. A lot of us have been arguing for a long time that journalists (and I worked at newspapers for 19 years) need to let go of the notion that journalism is a black art, a mysterious and offputting profession that mortals couldn’t even begun to understand.

      Yes, ordinary folks who want to practice journalism need to learn some of the precepts — the rules of the road that we’ve learned over the years through plenty of hard knocks. But it’s not about elevating, it’s about informing and sharing.

    • JD: Well said…couldn’t agree more!

    • You’re right Paul…but you also got it wrong. I agree entirely — to steal a line, acts of journalism can be committed by anyone. And there’s a good reason we journalists are not required to be licensed to do what we do. It’s a craft. It ain’t brain surgery.

      But as the person who made the remarks you’re referring to, your original post shows clearly the being a journalist is not unelevated at all, since you’ve committed the all-too-common journalistic sin of misquoting me and then attacking what you said I’d said, but that I never did.

      When I was discussing “elevating” members of an online community before an audience for a session on the Knight News Challenge winners here at the Toronto meeting of the Online News Association, I was *not* talking about “elevating them from citizen to journalists. What I *was* describing was a new experiment we’re trying on our I,Reporter project for Knight — that is, encouraging a community to participate in a new message board, and then once they became regular contributors, then “elevating” them to become regular contributors to a group blog. That’s quite different from the way you described what I said.

      And sorry, one more error in your original post. I’m not a “former” anything, except a recovering 24/7 web news editor. I continue to be, and will remain, a journalist — first and foremost.

    • Fixing typo, and clarifying:

      “…shows clearly *that* being a journalist is not *all that elevated* at all, since you’ve committed the all-too-common journalistic sin of misquoting me and then attacking what you said I’d said, but that I never did. … “

    • There’s a quote from a post of mine on Ireporter.org addressing this issue when talking about the importance of asking the right questions:

      “But why assume working journalists are the only ones who can take on that critical task? Hasn’t it been your experience that ordinary folk (not to mention those with some expertise or other) can ask questions as smart and penetrating as any reasonably trained journalist? … So while I’ve always thought the role of the journalist was a very special one, I hope with this project to consider how thin the lines really might be between the working journalist and the citizen journalist. So to paraphrase Gertrude’s famous ‘rose is a rose’ line, maybe ‘a journalist is a journalist is a journalist is a journalist.'”

      Full post at http://www.ireporter.org/2005/06/going_by_gertru.html

    • K

      In part it’s a question of craft. Those who have had training and/or experience, lots of those two things, tend to have perhaps a better delivery – in technical terms. This means one of their pieces is more direct, clear and may be easier to understand than a piece by the average person without training in the craft of Journalism. And, there are exceptions- some who are very good at the craft are simply born, I believe, with a natural intuition for clear delivery and the ear for a good tale.

      However other considerations come into play for Journalists. Editorial aspects impact a Journalist’s story as it moves through the pipeline to material for public media broadcast or publication. These considerations are not so much in place for the average citizen. So, advertisers, broadcast media policies and perspectives, the wishes and view points of the media owners, politicians, all these may impact on the eventual publication and placement of a Journalist’s news information. Citizens are not required to manage these add-ons.

      Which voice is important to our Democracy? Which voice(s) are we most in danger of losing in the contemporary mix of digital information?

      So, in thinking about the question of elevation, perhaps it is helpful to decide are we speaking of craft or of the right to speak one’s opinion, have one’s voice heard? And, there is where the line is most important, in my mind. After all, until recently, we all KNEW we were guaranteed the right of free speech and, even encouraged to exercise this right a duty of citizenship.

      Now, some speak of the power of the press differently. No longer is it uniformly viewed as the amplifier for the voice of average citizens. Now we citizens do have the digital medium as a forum through which our voices can be made heard. But, it is not without a price- we will need to diligently protect this right, the communication pipleline by which we can connect, one to another. And, we will need to educate each other about ways to use this opportunity and even perhaps to amplify the impact.

      One way to amplify our voices would be to each become more active in our local Media Access / Cable TV station. These take time and some resources but can have a big payoff in democratic terms. Programming at Community Access Stations is entirely by and for local and/or regional communities.

      I urge all readers to familiarize yourselves with this tremendous opportunity and to train yourselves in its use. Community Access Station programming is our access, our avenue to speak without corporate and editorial policy influences. Just the news as our community groups see it! That’s the power of Community Access television. Use it; protect it!

    • K

      AND, KEEP BLOGGING, too……..!!

    • Adam: Actually I wasn’t quoting you, but someone else…and my curiosity was/is around the general use of the term “elevate” in addressing this complex relationship and mixing between journalist and citizen. Have heard other journalists use it too…

      Good post in Ireporter, BTW.

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