I have been following this ongoing debate as to whether free journalistic content on the Internet and real-time amateur photos uploaded from the world’s flashpoints will outpace traditional journalism. No, say the traditionalists: our investigative journalists go deep and cover many viewpoints. Wrong, say the citizen journalists: our information is current and we have no profit motive behind it. We are impartial, counter the traditionalists. You are paid by advertisers, so you have to be politically correct, say the rebels. Our personnel risk their lives in the world’s hotspots and many of us have died in the line of duty, say the traditionalists. We are in the line of fire, says a rebel, poking his head out of a bombed-out building to snap the latest atrocity on his iPhone and upload it for the world’s viewing pleasure (or horror).
I am not sure who is right. Certainly, Internet 2.0 has provided for an instantaneous dialogue between writers and readers and we are not satisfied any longer with just the bare presentation of facts, arguments, propaganda and lies. And the very static “letters to the editor,” – that is, the traditionalists’ old fashioned attempt to stimulate audience participation – pales under the online world’s “like” and “comment” buttons that accompany most e-journal pieces these days. “Going viral” happens faster on the Internet than in traditional media. The fact that most traditionalists have embraced the Internet to issue e-versions of their paper editions means that they don’t want to be left behind. To make matters worse for the old guard, the recent telephone bugging scandals of the traditionalists have not endeared them to readers. Traditional content providers are out to sell advertizing – we all know that – so mass appeal is where their interests lie and the citizen journalists are left to cover the niches. Therefore, one could argue, how comprehensive is traditional journalism if it is shaped by a powerful sponsor with vested interests?
Not getting paid for citizen journalism, while this indicates purity of intention, could also include poorly written pieces and content emanating from those with undisguised axes to grind. But we have also heard of “right wing” or “left wing” newspapers in the traditional space. On the other hand, traditionalists are lifers and insist that their journalists are immersed in their subject, and provide accuracy, structure, responsibility and voice, while citizen journalists are scattered in their presentation and may quickly get bored and move onto other pursuits once they have had their fill of saving the world or exposing its underbelly.
I too have dabbled in citizen journalism and like the fact that I do not have to pay obeisance to an uncaring editor who may edit, alter, or reject my submission because it is not to his liking or displeases his sponsors. It has allowed me to view the world and comment on its idiosyncrasies while maintaining a paid career elsewhere. I do not entertain ads on my website or blog for the privilege of being free of interference. I have thus managed to escape the moniker of “jaded journalist” or “corporate lackey.”
I am not sure which side is better for both have pros and cons. I am grateful that Internet 2.0 has allowed many of us who care, to share our views with the world without relying on the narrow portal of traditional journalism to showcase us. It has also given the reader a wider spectrum of opinion to consider and a bigger headache in sorting out the wheat from the chaff.