Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Citizen journalism - trustworthy local reporting or partisan, dangerous, busy-body ramblings?


A couple of days back I was stood with a bunch of journalists in a newsroom together with a bunch of former hacks who have now gone across to the dark side of PR.

The PR-bods were visiting one of the offices where I work to look at the new system which was installed which has seen the merger of a number of district offices under one roof. I'll come back to this issue at a later date when the system has had a chance to bed in and lessons have been learned.

Standing around the table of sandwiches, snacks, coffee and tea, the conversation meandered to the issue of how local reporting has changed since they left the newsroom - just two, three and four years ago.

I've previously written about local authority press officers producing video (which you can catch up on here), so when the conversation moved on from how many videos they produced in each week, the subject of bloggers and citizen journalists came up.

One of the districts within my patch has a very active online community which boasts at least four or five competition news websites.

While one or two of these sites demands the same access to the movers and shakers of the council as the more established media (ie us), they very rarely get it. Of course I welcome the advantage this provides, but you have to wonder how long this can be the case. As followers of blogs increase then they will become (or rather already are) ideal portals for local authorities to distribute information to a niche geographical community.

But then comes a question which was raised during our informal gathering: How can citizen journalists be recognised as legitimate media when they don't follow any code of conduct, or carry any formal training to identify them as journalists?

One citizen journalist I know will stop at nothing to get the photo, or the story - he really is the archetypal big screen hack, only on a small screen blog.

I've even heard stories of him barging into paramedics to get pix of a dying man at the scene of an accident. His reputation now goes before him and he has in fact tarnished the (already delicate) reputation of journalists in the community.

Should the badge of honour of 'journalist' be reserved for only those who follow the Society of Editors' Code of Practice?
Should access to movers and shapers be restricted to 'legitimate' reporters?

It's a tough one. But I do suspect there will be a rapid shift in attitude to citizen journalists when the movers and shakers realise the bloggers boast the very audience they want to move and shake.

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