News media leaves space for citizen journalism

Could citizen journalist expose a story like Watergate?

Could citizen journalism expose a story like Watergate?

Good journalism is always time-consuming, and time is always money. Once, there were ‘rivers of gold’, the advertising revenues monopolised by newspapers, that sustained well-staffed newsrooms with the resources to pursue hard stories.

Those rivers have run dry. The advertising dollars that underwrote serious journalism have been hijacked by a million web pages, news on the cheap, where the stories between the ads read like fast food tastes. The old newsrooms have halved, then quartered, and those left behind are mostly too time poor to do the research, the checking, the thinking, that quality writing demands. Not surprisingly, it’s investigative journalism that’s been the big loser – to the quiet relief of those who trade in politics, power and money.

But there are already glimmers of hope among the turbulent forces shaping the new media – and citizen journalism is one of the brightest. If, suddenly, there are people who are prepared to work at the news coalface for the simple satisfaction of doing something profoundly worthwhile, the whole game changes. With a little guidance, some determination, and enough time, most people can produce the bones of a good story that the mainstream media, with its workload and deadlines, doesn’t have the resources to cover.

Check any local paper, in print or online, and see how many stories their small number of reporters have to churn out each day. It’s a tribute to their professionalism that they do the job as well as they do. A citizen journalist will never match that work rate, primarily because she or he would never want to. If a story takes a fortnight of digging, and another week of checking and writing, so what? There’s no meter running. It’s a degree of freedom that most journalists in paid employment can only dream of.

Citizen journalism does not have to be pretty

Citizen journalism does not have to be pretty

The impact of citizen journalists, especially in a small news market like the Redlands, can be dramatic. It wouldn’t take many volunteer reporters, producing a steady flow of worthwhile stories, to double the surveillance of public affairs provided by the current news outlets across the city. This would lift the profile and awareness of Redlands 2030 which, in turn, would raise the status and credibility of its citizen journalists.

Two things follow. First, important community players like the Redland City Council, Queensland Government, local business, entrepreneurs and so on, simply can’t ignore a media presence with growing influence in their sphere of operations. Their co-operation in sharing information, answering questions and agreeing to interviews will, maybe grudgingly, increase.

Second, other media outlets will soon pick up on good local stories instigated by citizen journalists – they really have no option. And because the profit motive is absent, they are welcome to them – as long as there’s some acknowledgement of where the story started. Again, it all adds to the credibility of the 2030 ‘brand’ and the satisfaction that you feel when something you’ve produced has made a difference, no matter how small.

Journalism can be a slog. Stories can go nowhere. People can be unhelpful, and it’s no path to popularity. But if you believe the public’s best defence against bad outcomes is knowing about them, preferably before they happen, it’s rewarding work. And the many things you’ll learn along the way about where you live, and those you share it with, are an intriguing bonus.

Peter Wear

Peter Wear

Peter Wear – 13 October 2014

Peter Wear has been executive producer of the ABC’s 7.30 Report, a staff writer on The Bulletin magazine, and a regular contributor to the Courier Mail. He also taught journalism at the University of Southern Queensland.

For further reading go to an article in the Guardian by Kate Bulkley:

The rise of citizen journalism

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3 thoughts on “News media leaves space for citizen journalism

  1. Thankyou so much for your words Peter. I have always believed in the need to dig deeper, to identify the reasons decisions are made by those in power. Now, not only is it easier to understand why we are in this predicament, we now have a title on which to name ourselves – citizen journalists.

    Thankyou, and I am looking forward to hearing more from you on how to be an effective citizen journalst/investigator.

    And thankyou for for being our medium to inform others and debate principles.

  2. Thank you for your comments.
    I think you may be reading and watching too much bad journalism. The Fairfax papers, SBS, the ABC’s 7.30 and Four Corners, The Monthly, and online sources like The Conversation, all have good writers and reporters producing worthwhile informative content. Even Mr. Murdoch supports good journalism, if you’re prepared to wade through the mud to reach it.
    Of course it’s not all good, but that was really my point. The kind of treatment you wanted see in Peter Dowling’s case would occupy a good journalist for several days, longer if it was for TV. How does any news outlet recover the two or three thousand dollars that would cost? They have to be in for the money – without the money they’re very quickly out of it.
    My point about citizen journalists, who work for the intrinsic rewards instead of money, is that they can cut through that problem. And there are heroes in newsrooms. If you look back at big stories, like the Queensland corruption that led to the Fitzgerald Commission you can see their bylines.

  3. I am loathed to correct someone as accomplished as your self, however there is a plethora of difference between the offerings of the media it’s tolerance, journalism and the objective unadorned truth.
    So much so in fact events like the ones in the (nigh on fictional) movie still that accompanied your piece are truly indicative of smoke and mirrors of the media and its journalism as it exists.

    The very notion that the media even tries to meet the test of “ needs to know” is in reality more often a myopic, self interested distortion, of the difference the above and “ want’s to know(read titillation/entertainment).
    Take for example the political demise of Peter Dowling. Perhaps you can explain to me why we needed to know the salacious details of his appalling lack of personal behavioural judgement rather that the real effect on the people he is supposed to represent?
    Logically, we should be more concerned with the implications of the ease with which he lied for his personal gratification, to people he knows and supposedly loves. Especially given it is a well established psychological fact that it’s easier to lie to those we don’t know than those we do. Ergo how much easier it is for him to lie, putting his personal gratification before to his constituents?
    But then again salacious (if it bleeds it leads) sells , Pity about the real public interest(good).

    One only needs to look at the orders and screen times given to stories, um (news?) items to see this. All in the search of popularity and sensationalism.
    As for a balanced approach, that’s fine if all points of view are based on objective facts as opposed to ideology, emotional opinion and self interest. What is factually informative about journalists interviewing other journalists on their opinions?
    Let’s get real journalists by and large are just people with skills/ education in writing popularised (simplified) prose. If I’ve learned anything from my life it is that nothing is simple and meaningless without context.

    As for the media tolerating the public opinions that depends of if that opinion questions their methods or their marketing practice…. cosey relationship with power groups and predatory practices.
    All this brings us down to the point that the media is just another means of doing “business” and the journalists are varying degrees of skilled employees doing “business”.
    By any reasoned assessment Business’ primary task is it’s own longevity and profits/advantage to it’s owners and hierarchy. And we all know that in that world truth is determined by the powerful.
    I wish the media would stop pretending to be the saviour of society. Simply Put there are no heroes only heroic acts and hype.

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