If Astronomers Can Happily Share The Business With Amateurs, Why Do Some Journalists Get So Upset?

from the inferiority-complex dept

We were recently talking about some of the strawmen complaints that some (though, certainly not all) journalists put up in protesting the idea of "citizen" journalism (which should, more accurately, be called participatory journalism). One of the bigger strawmen is this idea that people think that amateur journalists mean that professional journalists aren't needed. There may be someone out there who does believe it, but most supporters of participatory journalism believe the two work together quite well.

Hulser alerts us to a recent NPR piece about astronomy, where one astronomer talks about the very friendly relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:
Jupiter's disappearing belt wouldn't have been noticed so quickly without those hobbyists, Beatty says. In fact, in astronomy, the pros depend on the amateurs to sound celestial alerts.

"There aren't enough professionals to keep track of everything going on in the universe all the time," Beatty says. "So in a sense, they rely on amateur astronomers -- who have very good equipment, by the way -- to actually keep an eye on things."
This seems like a much more reasonable approach. It also raises questions about why some journalists feel so threatened by amateurs in their space, but other professions are able to find a happy balance. Hulser suggests
"It's my sense that journalists have a more paternalistic view of themselves in comparison to the "amateurs" i.e. bloggers or commenters, whereas professional astronomers appear to have a longstanding cooperative relationship. Professional astronomers are humble enough to admit they can't see everything themselves and accept the help."
There could be plenty of other reasons, as well. My guess is that there is a general dislike of the "mainstream media" in many circles, so some in the press already feel under attack. So they interpret efforts to boost journalism with help from others as being an aspect of that threat, even if it's really an attempt to help. A secondary issue may have to do with the general standing of newspapers today -- with many in financial trouble, it's natural for those employed by the media to view an influx of others, who can do at least some aspect of their job, as a threat rather than as a resource to be utilized.

All of this does make me wonder, however, if various new journalism business models will need to take this issue into account, in making sure that they don't freak out some group of existing journalists, or if it just makes more sense to plow ahead, and let those who don't like it deal with the issue on their own. It could be something worth exploring as part of the Techdirt Saves* Journalism brainstorming workshop we'll be running on June 16th.

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  1. identicon
    Darryl, 7 Jun 2010 @ 7:24am

    As has been said, Journalism is subjective, Science... Objective.

    It is really very simple, Journalism is a subjective pursuit and Science is factual, or objective.

    If you submit, an Astronomical observation, then the information you submit is beyond any subjectivity and is just pure facts.

    Journalism on the other hand can be unethical, and highly subjective, to just wrong and including outright lies. Opinion is not facts, and journalists, professional journalists work under specific rules, morals, and codes of ethics. Like not naming minors, fact checking, and unbiased reporting.
    Just as an Amateur astronomer would check his facts, and provide 100% unbiased data. And no observation or experiment is done in isolation, all amateur work will and is strictly peer reviewed by professionals, that does not take anything away from the achievements or discoveries or contribution that Amateur astronomers do, but everything in science is repeatable (or should be), and is highly peer reviewed.

    Amateur Journalism, is not like amateur science, most if not all bloggers, or amateur journo's have an axe to grind, they all ready have clear predefined biases, and specific outcomes they want to achieve, or an opinion to express.

    How many amateur journalists actually go out and do interviews, does real investigative reporting, get second sources, confirm facts and report in a 100% factual, and unbiased way?
    Not very many at all I would say, that is the total opposite to the Amateur Astronomer who actually makes observations, and reports exactly their findings, and not their opinions.

    That is the scientific way, and I can fully understand how professional and ethical journalists would be upset seeing the huge mass of tripe, and biased opinion and speculation that purports to be 'journalism'.
    And not just some angry person venting against all the ill he see's in the world. And that how his blog is going to change the world for the better.

    Instead of just giving us facts, and factual information and letting us interpret the data, instead of being spoon fed opinion.

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