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Another Kind of Citizen Journalism

Much has been made in recent years of the ability of non-professionals to write articles, offer opinions and make photographs or videos that then appear online, competing with and sometimes supplanting the role of the professional journalist. The trend has been called a movement, “citizen journalism.”

The billions of images on the Web, the enormous numbers of blogs, the online media like CNN and the BBC soliciting work from anyone who purports to have something to say, all have made it quite clear that the authoring tools provided in the digital environment are being put to wide use. While the quality of the work contributed varies enormously, and its sheer volume renders much of it invisible, what is not in doubt is the ability of millions to find at least a piece of their voice and to be published. In the process the older quality-control mechanisms in media, for better and worse, have been rendered largely moot.

But citizen journalism might also be interpreted another way. With mass media outlets collapsing on an almost daily basis, leaving us with a fragmented blogosphere and Web 2.0 sites like flickr and YouTube, there are fewer shared sources of filtered and reliable news and analysis for what used to be called the general public. What will it mean to be a citizen of a community without the common focus of a front page? Where will the representative moral suasion to which a government has to be accountable be found, or the journalistic leadership to tell us about the world in ways that might broaden our perspectives, even if we were not at first interested?

Many argue that the blogosphere constitutes such a force. It does, but it requires a complement of professional journalism. How many non-professionals do the hard reporting? Citizen journalism should not only invite us to publish our own words and pictures, but also require us to exercise our citizenship by supporting the best of the professional journalists who explore a broader swath of society. While mistakes are made by professional journalists and their purviews can be limited, the best of them do expand our sense of what it is to be alive and encourage responsible citizenship.

This too is citizen journalism. And it is incumbent upon all of us, whether by buying a newspaper or subscribing to a website, to support it. Or else - and this is the inevitable challenge - to formulate other models that will serve us even better.

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