Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Why Citizen Journalism is Important

Having just wrapped up a third interview in light of the press release announcement on the Utah Amicus DNC State Blogger Press Corps. opportunity, I realized the most common question I've been asked is "Why is this so important? Why is it such a big deal."

I realize I take such questions for granted, as a long time junkie, participant, off and on member, critic, and even occasional target of today's media. Simply, I don't blame them (it's a business) but I don't trust them either. I don't believe in a constant media bias (it shifts with political winds), nor do I believe it is possible for anyone to - at any time - be completely objective in their reporting. But I do understand the importance of independence in media, especially as lax consolidation rules and increased focus on marketing as opposed to "watchdogging" overtakes our primary sources of information.

What the DNC has done, in offering press credentials and access to bloggers is open the door to that independence. Our coverage of the convention will no doubt be biased, and don't let us or anyone else convince you otherwise. But rest assured, our pockets are not padded by Exxon, or Rupert Murdoch, or even the Democratic Party itself (though they have been quite supportive in helping us plan). If I see something I don't like (such as the "Clean Coal" email I received this morning, inviting me to their events in Denver, and offering me a "survival kit" for my travels) I am free to criticize without fear of a loss of funding or my job. Get the drift?

As bloggers, we are being given the same access CNN and AP receive, but our only allegiance is to our readers, and the readers of The Utah Amicus (who are also our sole funding sources - and thanks to those who have given already). This is not a luxury CNN will have, as their allegiance is to their editorial departments, who are pledged to the CEO's, who are in turn indebted to their advertisers and investors. Starting to see the difference here?

And while CNN will arrive with expensive video equipment and broadcast vans, we will arrive with our $10 BestBuy microphones and $100 digital cameras. Yet we can provide, through the magic of the intertubes, a very different perspective on the same events and speeches and platforms and representatives.

It is a landmark event. And while I am honored to be part of the first wave, I can't wait to see what this means for future events and other bloggers in the continued engagement and participation in the democratic process.

Every time I have occasion to explain the importance (necessity?) of citizen journalism, I am reminded of an old Telegraph UK article story that recently prompted a lively discussion, from which I'm stealing this:

Because there are so few real journalists anymore, the few still out there have to do many times more work. What that means is simple: they are forced to do it badly. A Cardiff University study of the four British broadsheets (this one included) found that they took up to half their news direct from press releases. (and it gets worse if you look here). And the same, roughly, with the big four US newspapers too.

I could go on for a long time about this – the impact big business margins have had on traditional news gathering, how the internet has changed the game, the miserable life of a stringer… (a very depressing, and fantastically good place to learn about this is Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News) but the point stands. We’ve been lamenting the demise of serious investigative reporting for 30 years. We’re now looking at the demise of reporting full stop.
Voters are the new watchdogs. If you can, help us pull this off.

And more importantly, find away to get involved yourself.


  1. Stop by the kick off party tonight, if you have the time.

  2. I'd love to, but I took the bus today and I have no way over there. I hope you get some good participation.