I’m not particularly interested in Nick Denton and his Gawker Media enterprise. But I do read Jack Shafer’s column in Slate regularly, so I slogged my way through his examination of Denton but perked up when I reached the penultimate sentence: “Secretly, many reporters wish they were Denton, free to the point of anarchy to write whatever they wish.”
That has the sound of truth to it. And it challenges a concept of journalism about which I have become increasingly skeptical: For a practice to be called journalism it must include an editing process by people other than reporters.
The problem I have with this is: It cuts out everyone but those the business institution of journalism sanctions as practitioners. Further, this sanctioning allows governmental organizations to practice de facto licensing of journalism, e.g. those who get to cover the local police are those who have a press credential from a local news organization. For a cogent argument about why this is troubling, read “Hats off to Unofficial Journalism!” by Adam C. Powell III.
To be redundant, Doug McGill and I are preparing to argue at the 2006 Media Ethics Colloquium that:
Commercial news organizations do not get to decide who counts as a journalist; audiences get to decide who counts. So would-be journalists must create legitimacy among the publics they would serve. And we suggest three ways that may be done outside of a traditional newsroom: 1) be loyal to the audience first, 2) make the invisible visible (i.e. cover those people and topics the so-called mainstream media ignore), and 3) operate with a discipline of verification and as a custodian of facts. Do these things and you may properly call yourself a journalist.
You can see the problem here. Governmental organizations can thwart citizen-journalism efforts by simply continuing to require a press credential for access to certain records, sources, or situations.
A partial remedy: Tell a different story; tell the citizen’s story. Governance and politics affect the lives of citizens. Show us how.
Citizen journalists can do that.