You’ve seen the TV commercial, I think it’s flogging smartphones, and I admit every time I watch it, it makes me want to pitch my battered copy of Strunk and White at the screen.
In the spot, exceptionally cheery folk frolic in various colorful settings while snapping pictures of everything they see with their shiny new phones. The announcer invites viewers to join this happy legion of “citizen journalists.”
Yes, I know, the TV commercial is just that — marketing. As big pharmaceuticals “create” ailments you didn’t know you should worry about so you will buy their products, competing phone companies try out new ways to entice us to purchase their devices.
But let’s be clear. When was the last time you saw an advertisement from a hardware store urging you to sign up as a “citizen plumber”?
(Sure, that’s the implied message with the overload of DIY-flavored hardware store commercials. But we get pitches in equal measure that hype the stores’ helpful staff, too, on hand to lend deferential, experienced advice.)
I admit I’m biased. Journalism is not only what I do because I believe it’s important, but also what I and many others went to school to learn and have put in years working at so we’d be better practitioners.
We don’t quick-like-a-bunny publish the latest rumor we heard. We do our best to research it, verify its accuracy, put it in context. We are — as President George W. Bush would say — a filter, but in a constructive way.
Jay Rosen, New York University journalism professor and Huffington Post contributor (as well as being a board member of the company that owns The Gazette), offers this fairly neutral definition of citizen journalists: “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”
Rosen also blogs on this topic at PressThink.org. He often considers the value of social networks and sharing of information, and how they fit in with the ongoing experiment of journalism today.
Or, in other words, where do we go from here?
It’s a vital question as advertising revenue gets more segmented and thus harder to tap. Last month, for example, Gannett, the largest-by-circulation newspaper publisher and owner of the Iowa City Press-Citizen and the Des Moines Register, cut an officially undeclared number of jobs.
Around the same time, two big marquee names changed owners — the Boston Globe and the Washington Post. The former, which had been purchased in 1993 by the New York Times for $1.1 billion, was sold to Boston Red Sox owner John Henry for a scant $70 million.
One reporter in The Gazette newsroom, after hearing the meager sale price, wondered aloud, “Is that all?”
The bigger question could be, is that all it — “it” being the collective experience and potential of its staff — is worth?
I do know what it — “it” being the information we’ve checked and presented to you in print, online or broadcast — is worth to me. How about you?