Journalism Professor Says Citizen Journalists Should Be Regulated

from the ah,-the-old-elite-standards-again dept

There’s just something about the idea a lack of “elite” gatekeepers that upsets some people. It’s why you hear complaints about Wikipedia or blogs or home videos on YouTube. For some reason, there are a group of folks (often the former elitist gatekeepers) who feel that since not all of the content is great, useful or interesting, it all is problematic in some way or another. The latest to express this type of viewpoint is David Hazinski, a journalism professor and former NBC correspondent, claiming that “unfettered” citizen journalism is “too risky” and that it needs to be regulated (via Romenesko) by “official” media companies, handing out “certificates” to citizen journalists. Unfortunately, his basic premise seems to be incorrect. He states: “Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide.” That’s not quite true. While some supporters may claim that, in general the benefits of the idea that anyone can be a reporter isn’t necessarily about reliable information, but about providing additional viewpoints and information to try to make sure that more of the story is out there for people to find. It’s not necessarily about being better — but just giving an outlet to people who can add more to the story. He’s certainly right that it can be abused, but that’s missing the point. Sure it can be abused. But so can the traditional press. What’s more important is that such abuses can also be outed and brought to light, just like any other news story. Hazinski is right that professional journalists should be verifying the information provided by “citizen journalists” but that should be true of anyone they accept information from. Almost all of the complaints he lobs at these untrained journalists applies equally to the trained ones — so it’s hard to interpret this piece as anything but complaints from someone who doesn’t like the riffraff encroaching on his turf.

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Comments on “Journalism Professor Says Citizen Journalists Should Be Regulated”

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48 Comments
John says:

Re:

I don’t understand why professional journalists feel so threatened by citizen journalists. I think that anyone who reads citizen journalism is certainly going to be more skeptical of the information than they would an AP story. In addition, if a citizen journalist became established and reputable, he almost certainly would become a professional journalist. Journalism has an important place in society, but journalists need to focus on embracing not only the internet, but the multitude of information sources on the internet.

Bah who needs one (user link) says:

Especially cute is the suggestion that entry into the news-reporting market be guarded directly by established media companies. Normally, when an oligopoly wants to guard entry by would-be competition, they lobby for government to regulate and issue permits and whatnot. I.e. the government will guard the hen house, and of course lots of hefty campaign contributions are paid by the fox. In this case, though, they were bold enough to propose that the fox himself personally guard the henhouse. ๐Ÿ˜›

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Especially cute is the suggestion that entry into the news-reporting market be guarded directly by established media companies. Normally, when an oligopoly wants to guard entry by would-be competition, they lobby for government to regulate and issue permits and whatnot. I.e. the government will guard the hen house, and of course lots of hefty campaign contributions are paid by the fox. In this case, though, they were bold enough to propose that the fox himself personally guard the henhouse. ๐Ÿ˜›

What he wants is a guild that has government granted control of a trade. Much like the Bar Association. He wants to make it illegal for people to practice the profession of journalism without government approval by proxy.

If this ever came true, the freedom of the press would be absolutely worthless as the government could then just revoke the press license of anyone that wanted to use one (They would instruct the guild to revoke it, and if they didn’t, they would just revoke the guild’s right to give out certificates and revoke all the ones they have given out).

Patrick Phelan says:

Re: Your wish can be granted

Yeah, no kidding. Does he really think that information provided by the people can justifiably be controlled? Sure there’s junk out there, and lots of it. Guess what? There’s also a whole lot of professional junk out there as well. And in my opinion I like the amateur junk a lot more, if only because their junk isn’t usually trying to sell me a product of theirs.

Much of professional media is influenced by factors other than simply ‘providing good and useful information.’ Many professional stories are made simply to get a customer to purchase their product, without containing any really useful information; therefore limiting what useful information that they do give to us. Eh, there’s a lot more to be said on this but at 2 in the morning my mind won’t find it for me.

Joe Harkins (user link) says:

Regulate Professors

Hazinski’s position makes it urgent that the government regulate college professors. They are dangerous, what with offering opinions no one asked for and putting their noses into other people’s business . . . oh wait, that’s us citizen journos.

The primary requirement for a professor’s license should be the ability to explain the meaning of the First Amendment. You know, that really confusing and fuzzy-language part where it starts out, “Congress shall make no law . . . “

zhanate says:

He’s a professor — that doesn’t make him a professional journalist. The worst place to learn about journalism is in college these days. Getting the government to license or otherwise regulate credentials for journalists is the last thing journalists, citizen or professional, need. That’s how you put government in control of what gets published. Good journalists having nothing to fear from citizen journalism.

In the end, what matters is your track record over time. If the competition forces professional media to be more flexible and hit harder, so be it. I do think in the end accuracy and fairness will win out, despite the people who only want to read what feeds their own beliefs, whether the journalist is paid well, poorly or not at all. (Yeah, I’m one of those evil professionals.)

Rich Kulawiec says:

Why not focus on doing a better job?

Of course, the suggestion that regulations should
be imposed is absurd, so I think that can be discarded.
I think it’d be better for “established” journalists
to focus on why the “amateurs” are rapidly gaining
an audience and threatening the status quo.

In my view, the single biggest reason is that journalists,
at least here in the US, have failed miserably to do what
they should be doing: bring a skeptical eye to the important
issues of the day. What they’ve done instead is to pander
to those of low intelligence — they’ve become gossip-mongers.

The most egregious examples of this are the 24-hour news
channels (which, btw, excludes Fox — it’s not a news
channel, it’s a propaganda engine). Instead of focusing
on important issues such as the erosion of civil liberties,
the criminal conduct of the administration, the looming
disaster of global warming, and so on…we are instead
shown story after story about Britney, Paris, and other
worthless “celebrities”. We have vicious racist Lou Dobbs
ranting about a border crisis that doesn’t exist. We have
Nancy Grace going on about whatever the latest murder
or disappearance is — these stories are NOT national news.
We have car chases, we have imbeciles like Glenn Beck,
we have shouting (not talking) heads in a farcial parody
of serious debate, we have “scandal” stories that are
childish nonsense, we have inexcusably rude pigs
like Chris Matthews, and so on.

Journalists should be ashamed and embarrassed by this.
At a time when their country needs them to focus on
serious, critical issues they’re obsessed with trivia.
(And gimmicky backgrounds, crawling text, and other
visual garbage that makes news broadcasts look like
a video game.)

And I don’t mean to overlook newspapers, which are
headed this same direction. Only a few (the Washington
Post, the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and the
San Francisco Examiner come to mind offhand) have shown
some of the tenacity required to thoroughly investigate
the most important stories of the day. And even they
have had serious lapses, e.g., their failures to figure
out that the run-up to the amazingly stupid invasion of Iraq was
based on lies — against, something that everyone of even
middling intelligence figured out well in advance.

The bottom line is that if “professional” journalists
feel threatened, it’s a problem of their own making.
Their laziness, their stupidity, their lack of courage
is rendering them rapidly useless. If they want to turn
it around — and I hope they do — then they will need
to adopt as role models Woodward/Bernstein, two of the
heroes of their profession. Or Edward R. Murrow, the man
who faced down the tyrants of his time.

Herb says:

Re: Why not focus on doing a better job?

Very well said and on target. I would like to respond to David Hazinski’s statement “unfettered citizen journalism is too risky and that it needs to be regulated.” Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.

If anyone needs to be regulated it’s the professional journalist (notice I said “If.” Personally I believe that constitutional freedom of the press needs to remain strictly “hands off” as far as the government is concerned.) With their livelihood and career advancement tied to the selling of stories there is significant temptation to sensationalize a story, stretch the truth and even to outright purposefully lie and steal from other writers. Consider the following:

Stephen Glass – was an American reporter for The New Republic who was fired for fabricating articles, quotes, sources and events.

Jayson Blair – a former New York Times reporter who was forced to resign from the newspaper in May 2003, after he was caught plagiarizing and fabricating elements of his stories. By 2000, his editors were rebuking Blair for the high error rate in his articles and his sloppy work habits.

Janet Cooke – was an American journalist who became infamous when she won a Pulitzer Prize for a fabricated story that she wrote for The Washington Post. After the fabrication was discovered and admited Cooke resigned and returned the prize. She appeared on the Phil Donahue show in January 1982, and said that the high-pressure environment of the Washington Post had corrupted her judgment.

While these are more famous incidents of jounalistic fraud, I suspect that these are only the tip of the iceberg and that many others continue undiscovered.

Dan says:

Like “professional journalists” are any better at verifying their information than citizen journalists? Pulllease. You mean like FAUX news? You mean the NYTimes and WMD? The number of examples of inaccurate and knowingly biased reporting are overwhelming.

The media is filled with misinformation and opinion. The media, the entire spectrum from TV, radio, papers, the web, are all subject to scrutiny. You read, you interpret, you make judgments about the validity of the information. And, in the end you believe what you want. The real problem is that we are not teaching people to be critical of what they read or see…. to be able to separate fact from opinion and belief.

And, it goes without stating–we already have a document that I suggest Mr. Hazinski read… the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Jamie says:

The problem with “citizen journalism” is summed up with that title. Professional journalists are part of the “Fourth Estate,” and act accordingly. This comes from the monarch days in which society existed in 3 estates: the church, the state, and the citizens. In other words, journalists must take themselves out of all of it and report objectively from outside of it. Under that belief, it is therefore impossible to be a true journalist and a citizen at the same time.

The real issue, though, is that journalists adhere to very strict standards of professional ethics (see the Society of Professional Journalists), which means accuracy, objectivity, a commitment to informing the public, and not unjustly causing harm. Most so-called “citizen journalists” do not consistently follow these standards and few are even aware of the laws and ethics that govern the profession.

This is not to say that non-journalists shouldn’t be contributing to the public dialogue on important issues, but rather that a clear line needs to be drawn between journalism and citizen commentary. If people want to be journalists, then they should be. But you can’t wear both hats at the same time and be credible.

Roger Schulman (user link) says:

Thank you Jamie

My journalistic skepticism and sense of fair play is triggered by this overwhelming response. I’m all for “citizen journalism” (doesn’t that sound brave and Minuteman-ish?), and so are the media outlets. CNN and other media welcome such reports; they’re desperately trying to join ’em because they can’t beat ’em.

But honestly, some guy with a camera phone has the same standards and integrity as someone who’s made his life reporting the news and risks the credibility (and therefore the circulation) of his publication? Joe Schmoe from Blow checks his facts as carefully as the New York Times — or checks his facts at all?

Not to mention things that may motivate a citizen journalist that just don’t enter into the equation with a professional: “Dude, wouldn’t it be cool if people believe this?” Or “I hate that guy, I’m gonna doctor this image.”

Spare me your conspiracy theories and mile-wide paintbrushes. And keep in mind that 98% of journalists are working stiffs making far less than $100,000, not millionaire Dan Rather types. So-called citizen journalism is a very American phenomenon and can be a very good thing. But it isn’t better than, nor does it replace, the working press.

Roger Schulman (user link) says:

Thank you Jamie

My journalistic skepticism and sense of fair play is triggered by this overwhelming response. I’m all for “citizen journalism” (doesn’t that sound brave and Minuteman-ish?), and so are the media outlets. CNN and other media welcome such reports; they’re desperately trying to join ’em because they can’t beat ’em.

But honestly, some guy with a camera phone has the same standards and integrity as someone who’s made his life reporting the news and risks the credibility (and therefore the circulation) of his publication? Joe Schmoe from Blow checks his facts as carefully as the New York Times — or checks his facts at all?

Not to mention things that may motivate a citizen journalist that just don’t enter into the equation with a professional: “Dude, wouldn’t it be cool if people believe this?” Or “I hate that guy, I’m gonna doctor this image.”

Spare me your conspiracy theories and mile-wide paintbrushes. And keep in mind that 98% of journalists are working stiffs making far less than $100,000, not millionaire Dan Rather types. So-called citizen journalism is a very American phenomenon and can be a very good thing. But it isn’t better than, nor does it replace, the working press.

Hulser says:

Re: Thank you Jamie

Did you even read Mike’s article? I’m constantly amazed by people who apparently skim over the article and formulate a reply based on their assumptions of what it meant, rather than what it actually said.

To wit…
So-called citizen journalism is a very American phenomenon and can be a very good thing. But it isn’t better than, nor does it replace, the working press.
Please tell me where in the post did Mike indicate that “citizen journalism” is better or should replace the working press? In fact, he specifically states that citizen journalism is “not necessarily about being better”, but about adding additional viewpoints. So, you either replied to the wrong article or read the write article, but got the exact opposite message it actually conveyed. Sheesh.

Shun says:

U.S. Constitution...ever heard of it?

It’s quite refreshing to see the opinions of the so called “professional institutions” represented here on TechDirt, but the fact that a given profession is interested in preserving their monopoly on knowledge, or some sort of gate-keeping role is irrelevant to the subject of required certification.

I am sure that the members of the Society of Professional Journalists are all very nice people, and I am sure that if you publish something and you tell your audience that you are a member of the Society, that your opinions may be given greater weight by the general public. Unfortunately, the professional society mindset usually gives way to the idea of “if it can be done this way, and many people agree that it should be done this way, then this is the only way to go.” For many reasons, this idea was rejected by the Framers of the Constitution.

The First Amendment prohibits the U.S. Government from infringing upon an individual’s free exercise of speech. This is extended to religion, press, and various other forms of self-expression. The Fourteenth Amendment extends these rights to include protection from individual state power.

In short, if you wanted to institute the certification requirement, it would be defeated in the courts. Sure, you may not be able to get a job, and you may be despised for being a non-certified citizen journalist, but no-one could prohibit you from writing whatever inane junk you wish to publish. Besides, if your ideas are nutty enough, who is going to give them credit?

If you publish flat out lies, you can be sued for libel.

I understand the desire for professional responsibility and courtesy, but from the citizen side of things, journalists have quite a bit of explaining to do. Why didn’t journalists ask the tough questions about WMD’s before the war? Why are we still waiting for someone in the Administration to spill the beans about who was responsible for the outing of Valerie Plame? What lies are the Administration telling us even now? Finally, why is U.S. mainstream news so very different, in terms of content and depth, from European news?

If journalists merely turn the lens upon their own institution, and begin to examine the corporate and state structures responsible for constructing the news, you may begin to understand why citizens trust other citizens, and have less respect for professionals.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Consistency

Also, following on the Hazinski ideas in the article, let’s push for consistency of the news messages, to keep things from getting confusing.

Let’s let Rupert Murdoch and the Clearwire CEO be the only two guys that can issue these journalist licenses.

It makes sense, because I find having too many divergent opinions in the press tiring and difficult.

Rich Kulawiec says:

Very nice, Jamie -- *in theory*

I concur with the idea that journalists should adhere to
high standards of accuracy, neutrality (except when
editorializing), etc. I understand why those things are
valuable, and why it’s sometimes necessary for people to
put their careers on the line for them.

Now let’s talk about reality…and reality is that
television news is (mostly) about scoring ratings and
thereby selling commercial time. Which is why lots of
coverage of Anna Nicole is “good” and lots of coverage
of complex issues (like, say, the internal political situation in Pakistan) is “bad”. Too hard to explain.
No boob shots. Too many difficult questions to which
there may not be answers that reduce nicely to sound bites.

And lets talk about newspapers — why isn’t the alleged
gang-rape, kidnapping, etc. of an American citizen by other American citizens (in Iraq) on the front page of every
newspaper in the country? Where is the tenacious
investigation into FISA violations? Oh, wait, I’m sorry,
I forgot — better to cover the latest sex scandal, that’ll sell more papers. Or maybe the lurid Peterson story, never mind that while it’s a family tragedy, it’s obviously not national news. Not even close.

If professional journalists are unhappy that others are
encroaching on their profession, then let them DO THEIR JOBS, which, for the most part, they are miserably failing to do. Let them prove — at 11 pm every night and on the nation’s doorsteps every morning — that they have
some grasp of what’s news and what’s gossip, rumor, and fluff.

And most of all, let’s see them have the courage to prove that they’re not lapdogs of government.

Jeff says:

If Hazinski is representative of the journalism professors teaching the next generation of journalists, we definitely need more citizen journalists. We’re well on our way to destroying the Bill of Rights.

I was a journalism student back when ethics, objectivity, and a free press were the hallmarks of good journalism. Now the mainstream media seem to be sold out either to a political bias or to ratings in the form of tabloid-style stories. The media are to blame for the first, and we as consumers the other.

Maybe it’s an idealized memory of my youth, but I seem to remember the days when journalists would ask hard-hitting questions on both sides of the political fence. Now we have the ‘hard hitting’ interviews like Katie and Hillary a few weeks ago…pitiful. I’ll gladly take more citizen journalism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Nice link overcast. I especially like the following:

Experience
He owns Intelligent Media Consultants, LLC, a company responsible for training the staffs and helping to launch eight television networks around the world, mostly on the sub-continent. These include Aaj Tak and CNN-IBN in India and GEO TV in Pakistan. He has also consulted for broadcasters and publishers such as the Voice of America, Gramedia in Indonesia, and Alsumaria in Beirut and Baghdad. While on the faculty, Hazinski spent two years as writer, co-host and technology advisor of the internationally syndicated World Business Review with Caspar Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense under Ronald Reagan. Before coming to UGA, Hazinski served six years as an international correspondent for NBC News, covering the U.S., Europe, and Central America — and ten years before that as a TV reporter with stations in Charlotte and Pittsburgh.

This guy sounds like a flat out America-Hating traitor to me. I was thinking he had crainial rectumitis, but after seeing his picture, it looks a lot more like penal rectumitis has bruised his brain.

Overcast says:

The real issue, though, is that journalists adhere to very strict standards of professional ethics (see the Society of Professional Journalists), which means accuracy, objectivity, a commitment to informing the public, and not unjustly causing harm.

You don’t seriously think that’s really the case do you? lol

Accuracy – that’s laughable – at best. (CBS documents anyone?)

Objectivity – ummm… lol, no need to comment do I? Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, Wolf Blitzer, Dan Rather.. are they all ‘objective’? LOL!!!

Commitment to ratings, it has NOTHING to do with informing anyway – they even say that openly.

Unjustly causing Harm.. The ‘media’ goes OUT OF IT’S WAY to find dirt on people and tragic news. How many people’s lives have been crushed when the media starts assuming guilt before the court system? Just for starters…

I mean – seriously, politicians have resigned just because of ‘media sensation’ before any guilt has ever been determined.

The current ‘media’ and ‘journalists’ are so horrible there’s a DEMAND for different news – why else is blogging and such becoming so very popular?

Anonymous Coward says:

who needs citizen journalists?

When you have Chris Mathews and Keith Olbermann who needs anything else? You dont need to balance the news when you are on the side of truth, right? That is why anyone who watches FOX news, votes republican, or dares to think that the UN shouldnt collect their taxes and run their lives should immediately be marched off to concentration camps for re-education preferably in balmy Alaska where all the polar bears have died due to global warming. Long live Democracy!

Kevin Stokes says:

in re: Journalism Professor Says Citizen Journali

Mike’s commentary is spot-on. Claims can be verified, facts can be checked. The more points-of-view, the merrier! It’s healthy that all this information journalists uncover is not always under lock-and-key, and is thrown into the arena of ideas for discussion and debate…

Academics, as a group, governments in particular, and traditional media outlets in general, favor suppression, regulation and control. They are, in short, socialists and communists. Citizen journalists create a more libertarian environment, and may well be pushing more truth into the light than was the case for the traditional media outlets. Of course, many of the citizen-journalists will be characterized by their critics and detractors as anarchists.

It seems Journalism professors and media moguls have somehow missed the point that journalism holds one simple, altruistic ideal: to report the news, rather than create it.

Mike Masnick’s article got it EXACTLY RIGHT.

Overcast says:

If anyone needs to be regulated it’s the professional journalist (notice I said “If.” Personally I believe that constitutional freedom of the press needs to remain strictly “hands off” as far as the government is concerned.) With their livelihood and career advancement tied to the selling of stories there is significant temptation to sensationalize a story, stretch the truth and even to outright purposefully lie and steal from other writers.

Very true indeed. After all – when they are paid – there’s a motive to ‘go too far’. Those who aren’t paid… well.. no real motive other than a possible agenda.

JEFF says:

More people are getting their news from internet sources. The major media companies are pretty P.O.ed about this as well as their sponsors that pay millions to advertise on the major networks. I am all for regulating our schools and Universities as well as the teachers and professors. I will never let any one tell me that I have to have a certificate from some good ole boys club in order to start a blog or report news on a web site. Whats next, will I have to get approval of some govt agency to start a web site? This idiot should be FIRED for teaching our future leaders this GARBAGE. Oh I forgot he can not be fired if he has enough senority. Maybe he should be transfered to Clown College.

Jay, writer MemberSpeed.com (user link) says:

Gone are the days of mass society theories. While citizen journalism may not be always be a reliable source of news, the thought of gatekeeping by the media companies absolutely appalls me. In this light, it just seems like they’re trying to expand their network or something. I really like the way you put everything into perspective here. And I really don’t like the idea of “certificates” being handed out. On the side of the masses, we can think for ourselves. Whatever news we choose to digest is our choice. While we have our credible and trusted news sources, we also want to hear about an issue or an incident from other sources. Or else, we’ll be stuck in a society where all is trained to simply accept whatever information is given them.

Paul (user link) says:

Did we read the same op-ed piece??

What Hazinski’s actually says, versus the writeup above and the headline some copy-editor stuck on the piece, is that news organizations should fact-check “citizen-contributed information” before adding it to their own stories. BFD!

He also calls for J-schools to give ethics training and certificates, but there’s nothing in the piece that says those certificates should be required before posting on the web.

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