The citizen journalism movement is huge, wild and untamed, rife with problems and possibilities, and will impact both consumers of news and aspiring journalists.
That was the message delivered Tuesday, April 20, to journalism students at Colorado State University-Pueblo by Ron Ross, co-founder of the National Association of Citizen Journalists and co-author of the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists.”
“The citizen journalism movement is huge and getting bigger,” according to Ross, who has studied the phenomenon for the last two years.
He said it is expanding geographically at the hyper-local, regional, national and international levels with websites “multiplying like flies.” It is also expanding in niche areas.
“You name your area of interest, whether it’s the outdoors or knitting, and you’ll find someone and maybe a thousand or a hundred thousand someones who are trying to make their news known,” Ross said.
The movement is wild and untamed because no one controls it and many citizen journalists go unmonitored, Ross said.
“There is no one to stop them, no one to moderate them, no one to fact-check their stories, no one to demand more complete sources or more accurate quotes,” he said. “It’s a wild and crazy place. Two Latin words should be taken to heart when you read the news on a website manned by a few citizen journalists: caveat emptor – let the buyer beware.”
That leads to the problems that Ross listed, including credibility, quality, consistency and profitability.
Citizen journalists’ reports are only as good as their credibility in reporting and writing the news, and the quality of their work.
Consistency is also important, Ross said. Newspapers are known for never missing a publication date, while some citizen journalist sites exist that haven’t had a post since October 2009, he said.
Part of the consistency problem could be that citizen journalists lose interest, in part because of the next problem – profitability. Most citizen journalism websites are not profitable, Ross said
But the possibilities of the citizen journalism movement are equally expansive. Citizen journalists can help local newspapers and broadcast outlets survive.
“Citizen journalists also can and are replacing disappearing newspapers with Internet newspapers,” Ross said. “They cover local governments that would otherwise go unwatched, they cover local events like high school sports and business activities that impact local audiences, they provide eyewitness reports of events as they happen.’
One key issue that consumers and aspiring journalists should know is that “citizen journalism will impact you personally,” Ross said.
Consumers of news must be wary of what they read on the unmonitored Internet. Consumers will need to discern between good and bad reporting, as well as opinion and unbiased news pieces, Ross said.
For aspiring journalists, Ross said the impact is caused the shrinking newsrooms and the current transition of the news business.
“You are entering what I’m calling the Darwinian era of journalism - where only the fittest will survive,” he said, suggesting they should “be the best that you can be.”
For more information about the National Association of Citizen Journalists, visit http://nacj.us. For information about the handbook, visit http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com.