The facts are these:

  • Paid newspaper subscriptions have been steadily declining by a 2-3 percent rate every six months since 2005 (Editor & Publisher)
  • Several major daily newspapers including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Miami Herald and Dallas Morning News have experienced steeper declines in subscriptions in 2007. (Editor & Publisher)
  • Viewership for evening news has decreased one million viewers per year for 25 straight years (Nielsen Media Research)
  • 2007 featured the least-watched week in recorded history for the big four television networks (Associated Press)

And now, as if journalism needed more impetus to just give up and stay home, there has emerged an outpost for citizen journalism online. The Issue hit the blogosphere in the spring and has now begun to collect a following. What is it? According to its “About” statement:

The Issue is a non-partisan blog newspaper that provides a window to an emerging world of diverse and informed opinions. We cull the blogosphere for its wise insights, probing analyses, and diverse perspectives, drawing together a borderless newspaper. By combining the democratization and diversity of new media with the format and editorial standards of traditional news, we hope to offer a hybrid news source that provides the best of both worlds.

IFirst Linerst is a “news source” of bloggers.

Credibility be damned. Training and ethics, unimportant.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Our liberty depends upon the freedom of the press.” Well, the press is now, officially free … to look for work. We’ve got bloggers in newspaper-esque format and no longer have a need for you, you … journalists!

With much less sarcasm, I must say The Issue is an interesting collection of some of the most vibrant voices around the Internet speaking passionately and eloquently of the issues most important to us today. Many of the blogs they use are written by wholly qualified pundits and thinkers on the respective topics their articles represent. The viewspaper (to coin a term) claims to choose their content carefully and cites “well-researched” as one important quality. From what I can tell, that’s accurate. What I say below is not directly aimed at The Issue, which is well worth your time to discover if you haven’t already.

However, the principle of choosing bloggers to offer definitive coverage of the topics of the day bothers me. The notion that citizen journalism is or can even try to replace the great art of pyramid inversion is simply ridiculous.

What I’m saying is Citizen Journalism is crap.

Read many entries on topical and current event blogs and you will find one consistent underlying fact: few of these people gleaned most of their knowledge of the subject matter first-hand. They read about it in their newspaper or similar news source’s website. They watched it on their television. They listened to others discuss it on their radio talk shows. They don’t always cite sources appropriately, not only because they aren’t trained to do so, but because they’re so enamored with their own opinion, they forget where it was formulated in the first place.

Everyone can be a pundit from behind their desk. Put most issues bloggers on the front line of having to discover the facts of a story while weeding out spin and positioning, asking hard questions of not-so-nice people, doing it on a deadline or, to magnify the point, trying to do so while being shot at, and you’ll have a room full of men and women with soiled underwear.

This is not to say that a journalist loses credibility by becoming a blogger. Nor is it to say that a blogger can’t practice journalism. However, just because you write about an issue doesn’t mean you are a credible source.

Yes, traditional media outlets and the journalists they employ are struggling to maintain relevance in this, the dawning of the age of social media. However, our knowledge and understanding of all the things we pontificate about is given breadth and depth by real journalists. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking we are like them. Because without them, we know nothing.

Other Posts You’ll Find Interesting:

  1. Citizen Journalism Takes A Step Forward
  2. The End Of Journalism
  3. User Generated Content And The Threat To Journalism
  4. Twitterquake And Citizen Journalism
  5. David Reich: Citizen Journalists: A Good Thing … Sort Of

IMAGE:First Liners” by novecentino on Flickr.

[tags]citizen journalism, journalism, bloggers, news sources, media, media outlets, credibility, journalists, viewspaper[/tags]

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About Jason Falls

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).

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Comments & Reactions

Comments Policy

Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://blog.sitebrand.com Kelly Rusk

    While blogging (and other factors of course) are certainly affecting the journalism industry, I don’t see it ‘taking over’ anytime soon.

    Even if all the journalists started working as bloggers, blogging is still going to be viewed as as not so credible. It takes quite a bit of time to change public opinion.

  • http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog Geoff Livingston

    I agree with Kelly. There is going to come a time when people say, “OK, enough. I need some real reporting now from a pro.” it’s just inevitable that the pendulum will swing back.

    BTW, I wrote about the blurring of these lines (decrying it actually) late last summer three times. Here’s the finally post of the three part series:

    http://www.livingstonbuzz.com/blog/2007/09/24/journalism-vs-blogging-iii-no-ethical-codes/

  • http://www.orato.com Robyn

    I don’t think citizen journalism is a)going to take over traditional media or b)intends to. I believe it compliments mainstream media and I’m not sure why some people feel it’s such a threat. What’s wrong with organizing blogs, or gathering people’s first hand accounts of the news? Yes, people will want “news from a pro” but they may want to supplement that with something unfiltered. Those opposing citizen journalism are making the bark bigger than it is.

    Robyn
    http://www.orato.com

  • http://www.yourprguy.com Rodger Johnson

    A turncoat journalist, I’m doing the PR thing now. First, after awhile, like Geoff says, people want “real” reporting. In fact, there are studies out touting just that. If newspapers would move toward thematic news coverage and away from epesodic coverage, studies show newspaper circ could rise once again. But newspaper execs are still working from a knee-jerk point of view — when it bleeds it leads. People just want more perspective than that. And they’re hopeful. A few years ago, I read a report stating the newspaper sales spike with bleed-n-lead stories, but circs drop after the initial buzz.

    My take is simple. Bloggers and “real” journalists can co-exist, and be happy. But reports have got to start telling better stories. And editors have got to let them.

    Rodger
    http://www.yourprguy.com

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Kelly — Completely agree with your point. Time is all that can really prove any change is in store for the way we view bloggers or journalists. I’m certain real journalists aren’t going away any time soon, I just thought someone needed to do something other than applaud the whole citizen journalist thing since the real ones don’t get enough credit as it is. Thanks, so much for stopping by and contributing!

    Geoff — What can I say? Geoff Livingston commented on my blog, for one thing. It’s an honor to have you, sir. And thanks for pointing us to your archives. My cursory search for my Other Posts list apparently didn’t dig back deep enough. Thanks again for coming by and chiming in. I’m going to go tell all my friends Geoff Livingston commented on my blog now.

    Robyn — Good point, too. I do think, however, those of us who get lost in the blogosphere from time to time, particularly those who have a tendency to believe anything we hear, give too much credibility to undeserving sources. It also worries me that so many traditional media outlets are struggling these days. Where are all the journalists going to go? I’m not exactly preaching some War of the Worlds scenario, but I do thing the credible journalists are sometimes getting ignored for the linkbaiters and pundits. Thrilled you stopped by to chat, though! Thanks for coming.

    Rodger — Excellent perspective. Journalists don’t get enough credit, but their work could also use constructive criticism like this to push them to be better. Tabloid and “bleed-n-lead” stories as you call them really make me ill. I agree that a bigger picture angle may be the path traditional media need to take. I also agree bloggers and the media can and will co-exist quite nicely. I just hope those decrying citizen journalism as the wave of the future realize what that means. Thanks, so much, for the response!

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    Jason – my concern is that Big-J journalism is going to be pitched to the wayside. As the audience fractures and the ad revenues start to shrivel, the corporate reaction is rarely to beef up the staff to do the kind of deep-researched pieces that give them relevance and set them apart.

    No. They instead try to emulate what they perceive as the leeching influence. They are starting to look and act more “bloggy.” Blogs are a good thing. Comments are a good thing. But they aren’t sources of vetted news. They are commentary.

    The lines are blurring in the public mind, and Big-J is blurring it even further. Cable nets brand themselves as “news”, when the bread and butter of the ratings come from cheap-to-produce opinion shows. There are more than a few who are willing to believe that they should ignore past standards, for the sake of being edgy and relevant: http://sports.aol.com/fanhouse/2007/12/14/are-ratings-more-important-than-facts/

    I fear for journalism. As bad as media consolidation seems for some, imagine how worse it’s going to be when there is a narrow and powerful oligarchy that holds the line on credible and independent reporting. Who watches the Watchmen?

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Bravo, Ike. And for those of you who don’t know, Ike was a veteran television news reporter before becoming one of our top PR/communications bloggers, so he’s got a good grounding for the opinion.

    I’m in the same boat in that I worry for journalism and journalists. Bloggers are the least of my concerns. I’m not trying to single out one side of the aisle or the other here, but watching Fox news these days makes me ill. To think that millions of people trust that as news when even their “news” can be interpreted as conservative propaganda. (To be fair, some people think CNN is a liberal messaging agent. I don’t see that as clearly, but I’m sure it exists.)

    Unfortunately, the perceived bias of mainstream news outets is part of what is giving so much credibility to bloggers. Unfortunately, I don’t think many of them are deserving of such esteem. I only hope we can find a way to preserve the fair and balanced reporting journalism is supposed to bring to our media experience, through blogs or not.

  • http://lgbusinesssolutions.typepad.com/solutions_to_grow_your_bu/ Lewis Green

    Jason,

    Excellent post and discussion. Like Roger, I began my writing career as a journalist. While I read many blogs, I continue to rely on traditional media for my “news,” although The Issue is an interesting concept and I plan to keep my eye on it.

    From my experience, the primary reason traditional news is more reliable is the assignment and editing process. Stories aren’t assigned until they have been through a vetting process and they aren’t printed before an editor reviews them. That doesn’t mean to say that traditional news is error free: far from it. But we can trust that every story has been reviewed and checked for accuracy.

  • http://occamsrazr.com Ike

    Lewis – you left out the final ingredient that has given “Journalism” the edge in credibility:

    Vested Interest.

    A good newspaper practicing quality journalism has a vested financial interest in being associated with the following:

    - Accuracy (as you noted)
    - Balance
    - Comprehensive reach
    - Fairness

    Stories and articles for slanted blogs and fringe newspapers also go through those same vetting processes, but the technological tide has altered the financial considerations. A blog can cost Zero, and when it does, who cares how well it grades on the criteria above?

    Some blogs aim for those same standards, and the vetting and quality control can still provide value in turning out better prose and better product. But at the end of the day, if your livelihood and identity isn’t staked to those ideals, you’ll not put in the time to prove them and maintain the reputation of trust.

  • http://www.socialmediaexplorer.com Jason Falls

    Lewis — Good points. There is certainly a separation point for outlets based on editorial assignment and content vetting. The general aura of blogs is that they are basically editorials not given such a thorough investigation and verification.

    Regardless of that difference, however, I worry that the web surfing public is slowly becoming imune to the factors of credibility and they don’t care that their “reliable source” doesn’t hold those standards.

    Ike’s point in response to you is well taken as well but there’s still my fear that the web viewing public doesn’t see the difference between a credible source and one that isn’t.

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