Thursday, 7 January 2010

Citizen journalism: amateur but addictive?

The BBC and the mainstream news websites are all desperately encouraging readers to send in their snow pictures and videos and post their accounts of how they got stuck in the snow/missed their exams/had a baby in the car on the M4 in a snowdrift. Citizen journalism at its most dynamic? Not really. The overall effect is more local newspaper than cutting edge journalism. And this, for many professional journalists, is one of the problems of citizen journalism, or user generated content, or participatory journalism, whatever you want to call it. As John Kelly argues in his paper Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold: "the main criticism levelled at citizen journalism is a simple one: it isn't very good".

It's easy for journalists to be snobbish. There's a growing body of research suggesting that professional journalists are "ambivalent" about the value of citizen journalism, partly because it challenges their own professional status (if anyone can be a journalist, why bother to spend years training and sucking up to editors and being shouted at in the newsroom?) and partly because they worry that poor amateur contributions will damage the brand of their organisation.

But the point is that readers want to read and view contributions from other readers. The top shared story at this moment on the BBC's website is "Your pictures: more snow across the UK". The broadsheet journalists' choice of top story today (the secret ballot letter plotting against Gordon Brown) was nowhere in the top story choice for BBC readers. Which rather goes to back up the widely held view among commentators that what journalists think is news and what readers are actually interested in are two very different things.

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