Jeff Jarvis, the “bloggers’ blogger” as Roy Greenslade calls him in at Guardian Unlimited, is recanting his use of the term “citizen journalism”. “I think,” Jarvis writes, “a better term for what I’ve been calling “citizen journalism” might be “networked journalism”.
He goes on to explain: “Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives.
It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product. I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news.
He says he was never satisfied with the term. There is good reason to be dissatisfied. When you put two words which are difficult, if not impossible, to define you end up with something even more imprecise. I have never been able to arrive at a better definition of journalism than, “you know it when you see it”.
Citizen is nearly as difficult and on any definition excludes millions of displaced people and economic migrants around the world. The problem is trying to describe something which ranges from bar stool rants to considered, even academic, discussion of deep issues.
In between we have rumour, conspiracy theories and downright lies. I have long considered that mediation, the process of group decision-making and editing, is a crucial element of journalism as we have come to know it. That is largely missing from what we have been calling “citizen journalism”.
It promotes the rumour exchanged in the supermarket queue to journalism. So my argument is more with the use of the term “journalism” than with “citizen” although both have their problems. Jarvis’s alternative, “networked journalism” is even worse.
Journalism has always depended on networks, networks of sources and people prepared to publish. Journalism cannot exist without networks whether they be in cyberspace or the physical world. To appropriate the word in this way is entirely wrong.
In a rather vague way we have come to know what is meant by “citizen journalism”. There is no good reason to abandon it, certainly not for something far worse.