Dan Gillmor, one of citizen journalism’s “founding fathers,” is again breaking new ground by starting a nonprofit Center for Citizen Media. He says the Center’s goals “are to study, encourage and help enable the emergent grassroots media sphere, with a major focus on citizen journalism,” as well as to “foster a truly informed citizenry.”
These are noble and welcome intentions. But there is another aspect to Gillmor’s initiative that is just as vital – something beyond getting the public involved, engaged and inspired to be part of the evolution of news. And that is convincing journalists to evolve as well.
Mainstream (professional) journalists also need to be citizen journalists. Ideas and participation need to come from the “edge-in,” as Gillmor says, but also from the “center-out.” Citizen journalists need to be more than real-time letter writers, and mainstream journalists need to look at news as something that is shared, not owned.
Or to put it another way, there should be no line between where the journalist ends and the “citizen” begins. Let this be the beginning of the age of the Journalist Citizen.
This is easier said than done. Too many in today’s working news media are a lost cause, preferring to stand by the devil they know and demonize the future of news as led by a horde of blathering bloggers in bathrobes.
But the future cannot be attenuated. A new generation of journalists is seeing to that.
This is a generation that is in journalism school right now or about to be, a generation that looks at the audience as partners – as fellow reporters with a common purpose. A generation who are to modern media tools what fish are to water.
Gillmor gets this (of course) – his Center will work with the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. But other top institutions – especially journalism schools – should get involved with Gillmor’s center, too.
Make Way for Journalists Who “Get It”
At schools like Kansas, Kennesaw State University in Georgia, and the Missouri School of Journalism, students are learning about and practicing citizen journalism every day.
Kansas’ “EHub” experiments with blogging and video podcasting. Kennesaw’s Public Journalism Network (PjNET) — run by Leonard Witt, another modern journalism innovator – is “a global professional association of journalists and educators interested in exploring and strengthening the relationship between journalism and democracy,” according to its charter. “We believe Democracy benefits when journalists listen to the people,” the charter states.
Missouri’s online MyMissourian is run by student journalists but publishes citizen-produced stories, photos and commentary – content that is equal to the traditional print Columbia Missourian coverage rather than supplementary. And Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute will focus on "advanced studies of journalism and its role in democratic societies."
We need more experiments and institutes like these to create a journalism that is relevant, engaging, and empowering – a journalism without cowardice or fear of its own future.
Not all citizens will or should be journalists. But all journalists must be good citizens for journalism, and Democracy, to survive.