Citizen journalism = Journalism : A zero sum equation?

An article on Know More Media by Kimberlee Morrison, pointed me to an interesting debate has re-opened up on Newsvine around the ‘what is citizen journalism/journalism “ issue.

It’s measured and interesting debate, asking as many questions as it answers but I was drawn to Kimberlee’s input. Her post is in essence a reminder of news values but questions the use of these as a defining feature of or proof against the value of CJ.

… I say that the existence of both traditional journalism and CJ are critical to the mass media equation. CJ offers the widest variety of news mediums for even the most obscure niche of interest for anyone with to access the Internet giving people an alternate source of information, while print media is slightly more tangible and accessible to the poor and or technologically inept.

I have been trying to find a way of describing the actions of both sides of the debate so the concept of a ‘mass media equation’ stuck with me.

Describing the current tensions between ‘trad’ journalism and, for want of a better phrase, citizen journalism as an equation makes sense to me. What has also made a lot more sense to me over the past few days, and clarified my thinking a little, is that most of the trad media (and some of CJ crowd) see this as a zero-sum equation.

Many pundits are making emollient noises about one medium never killing off another, opportunities rather than problems. So the idea that anyone seriously considers this a zero-sum situation would, on the face of it be a weird concept. But if I had ten pounds for every time I heard the phrase ‘digital or die’ or some kind of derivative I would be blogging this from Mauritius. People see this as a battle to be won

The reality is that many in the traditional media seem to interpret citizen journalism as a threat. They see ‘becoming digital’ as taking it over; owning the definition. By extension this means undermining the participation of those on the other side of the equation. To them, citizen journalism’s gain is their loss. What’s sad is that I think there is a bit more of complex equation that isn’t being considered in the debate.

The Newsvine piece and its accompanying comments seem to agree that on some level CJ’s are participating in the journalistic process. Taking the term CJ as a set of standards for those who participate in it, not for the traditional media to beat them with as long as the contribution makes the grade. So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to consider that practicing CJ puts them on the same side of the equation as the journalist.

Left on the other side of the equation, getting left behind, is the rest of the audience. The ones who don’t want to participate but want to consume.

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