National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation has asked me to speak on their program today about ‘citizen journalism’. They’re looking for someone skeptical about it. When their producer ask me to go on the air, I told her that I might not be that person.
If you go to your library and read a local daily newspaper from 50 or more years ago, you’ll find it full of the type of hyperlocal coverage that new-media pundits are discovering in ‘citizen journalism’. In other words, ‘citizen journalism’ is a return to what professional journalists used to do.
That is, they used to do before media corporations purchased almost all of the 1,400 daily newspapers in the U.S. and cut those newspapers’ reporting staffs to the point where there aren’t enough local reporters left to get out on the streets and report really local news the way they used to do.
So, is ‘citizen journalism’ today the solution for local journalism?
No, I don’t think so. Or, at least I hope not, because it’s at best a worst case solution.
The best solution would be for local newspapers to hire more reporters, to staff news organizations the way that local newspapers used to be staffed for a hundred years. Staffed so that those newspapers can again do really local reporting.
Am I naive enough to think that’s going to happen? No, I expect that staffing levels at local newspapers will continue to implode. The worst case will happen. So, maybe that means these newspapers should use ‘citizen journalism’ to supplement some of their reportorial staff loses. ‘Citizen journalism’ thus might be a useful tool.
However, ‘citizen journalism’ first needs to shed two impediments to its worthwhile use. The first is hype. As Psychologist Abraham Maslow noted, ‘When all you own is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail.’ New-media pundits seem to be claiming that ‘citizen journalism’ is the solution to all, if not most, of the news media’s problems. I instead think that it is just one of many, many tools that might be usefule to fix those problems.
The second impediment is na