What Did You Call Me?

    by Benjamin Melançon
    February 22, 2008

    Marketing guru Seth Godin urges companies to start calling “potential customers” and “targets” instead citizens. He means this term to be inclusive of those who have a relationship with the marketer and those who do not and to bring about a mental shift toward respect and humility.

    Nice to know that journalists are ahead of the marketers on this. Every self-respecting journalist I know cringes a little when some business-side person at a conference calls readers/viewers/listeners consumers.

    Indeed, many of us have lept over readers/viewers/listeners to pay “the people formerly known as the audience” a great mark of respect (from a journalist) by calling them citizen journalists.


    This term has received pushback from professional journalists who don’t want amateurs claiming their status and from bloggers and contributors who don’t want to. (Some feel the calling is too difficult to take on; some may just not want journalism’s approval ratings in the 20s for many metrics.) I object to the citizen part. Although Godin uses it to include, the definition of citizen is tied to the nation-state and therefore excludes, well, non-citizens (hat tip: J.D. Lasica).

    Jay Rosen’s excellent phrase used above, “the people formerly known as the audience” (perhaps building on Dan Gillmor’s “former audience”), is too long and makes us think too much for regular use. It is a seven-word manifesto. Note that it specifically does not equate the shifting balance of power (more ability to make their voices heard on the people’s part, less ability to ignore this discussion on the gatekeepers’ part) with the practice of journalism by everybody.

    We need a word that reflects the technology-allowed shift of people from passive observers to the more natural state of active participants. Even the term participant, though, presumes too much- many people will be potential participants, but they are still already more than an audience.


    So what are you going to call me?

    Tagged: citizen journalism name the people formerly known as the audience

    5 responses to “What Did You Call Me?”

    1. Zac Echola says:


      Communities can be centered around ideas as well as geographical locations, every area on a psychographic model has a community that shares interests with one another. Think layers of Venn diagrams overlapping.

      There are no ties to the nation-state (necessarily). They can be active participants (producers), they can be passive ones (consumers) or they can be a mix, but they all share similar interests.

      I think the days of journalists thinking of readers as “them” are numbered, just as I think the days of brands thinking of customers as targets are numbered.

    2. Thanks Zac! I like it. What do we call an individual, though– community member? Not so great…

    3. “Makes us think too much” Ben? Is there such a thing?

      I think of Gotham Gazette as having both readers and a community. Our readers are part of our community, or maybe part of our community never does more than read our reporting, but our writers and the folks who comment on our forums are also part of our community.

    4. Good point, Amanda! I don’t think there is such a thing as making us think too much… well maybe Jack Handy is a counter-example… but it’s hard to communicate a concept that “On every page of a news site users should be able to connect the content shown to other recently-viewed and algorithm defined content” (the goal of Related Content) when a whole other concept is embedded: “On every page of a news site the people formerly known as the audience should be able to connect the content shown to other recently-viewed and algorithm defined content.”

      Maybe that works? I’d like a single news-community-communicating word to replace “users” with, but for now the above and just “people” works for me!

      Personally I would use “participants” to describe people, both writers and readers, who are active members of the community.

    5. As if journalists need reminding, words matter:

      “We are uncomfortable with the term ‘citizen journalism,’ ” said Todd Wolfson, 35, a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the organizers of the Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia. “We prefer the term ‘community journalism.’ ”

      Citizen journalism has become the faddish name for the effort to encourage regular folk to use the Internet to report the news directly, but Mr. Wolfson had a point: many of the people whom his organization and an immigrant rights group, Juntos, are teaching to make video reports for streaming on the Internet are not citizens. Many are not even legal residents.

      The hope, however, is that they can be journalists.

      The classes are supported by a $150,000 news challenge grant from the Knight Foundation in Miami, which is donating a total of $25 million over five years “for innovative ideas using digital experiments to transform community news.”

      (From New York Times article by Noam Cohen.)

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