Mainstream vs. Citizen ‘journalists’

May 2, 2008

Don’t get me started on my rant about how any idiot with a cellphone camera or a pencil thinks they can be a journalist. That’s precisely why the word has quotes around it in the title.

But if you were to get me started on this topic, I would point you to an outstanding overview of the influence that social media is now playing in our society.

The only trouble with the piece and Chris Brogan’s perspective is that he’s coming from it as a proponent of the good that social media can do for companies, brands and messages.

As a professional journalist, I am loathe to share my space with people who think a blog is the same as a newspaper or media outlet. The lines are blurring, but that only means that consumers (anyone who reads news or wants to devour information about the world around them) should be ever more vigilant about where they get their information.

We’ve all seen and received the emails about Bill Gates giving people money for sending emails. We’ve all gotten the notes from people on missing children who don’t exist. We’ve all seen Robin Williams’ supposed diatribe on Iraq and oil.

For the most part, those items are perpetuated because the majority of people don’t have the training to check facts and verify information. My fear—substantiated by the tsunami of misinformation that’s present on the Web—is that media outlets will start to look only at the beans and decide that Joe and Josephine Six-Pack are as good at typing out the news or sharing opinions as those of us with years of training.

Then we all lose because the citizen ‘journalist’ who replaces a trained reporter is dragging down the standard by which we all take for granted. And when that standard vanishes, then our best source of news is going to be what we can see and hear for ourselves.

That might be easier with cameras and audio coming in from everywhere, but it’s also akin to the Old West when prospectors were oblivious to events that happened outside of there immediate vicinity.

Are we headed there? I don’t know. People are still paying me to write while bloggers are still scraping adsense and other avenues to make a dime.

I just think that the thought leaders (is that still being used as a term?) should take a breath before trumpeting the benefits of the untrained troops—I should call them troupes because it’s mostly performance art—and give some credit to the established and trained journalists.

Seriously. This needs to happen before everything we learn is categorized as ‘news’.

Keep reading.