Not all bloggers still live with mum…blogging is not (citizen) journalism

So much has been happening with Henrygate over the past week or so that I missed this outrageous speech by the BBC’s senior reporter Andrew Marr:

“A lot of bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting. They are very angry people,” he told the Cheltenham Literary Festival. “OK – the country is full of very angry people. Many of us are angry people at times. Some of us are angry and drunk”.

Who’dathunk Whaleoil (not that he’s a drunk) would have such a following in ‘Ol Blighty?

Is that a cauliflower you're wearing Mr Marr?

Sure the slightly seedy, bald[ing], cauliflower-nosed older gentleman that is Andrew Marr is entitled to his jaundiced view of bloggers, but in terms of over-generalising and stereotyping, his comment is A-grade nonsense.

A number of others have pointed this out, suggesting that criticising bloggers is soooo 2005, for example.

And Roy Greenslade writes that that Marr’s rant against ranting is nothing more than the ranting of an angry ranter and very one-dimensional. It’s also important to emphasise, as Krishnan Guru Murthy does, the two-way nature of media now – the news conversation – that blogging allows. It is also fairly common today that  many MSM journalists also blog

However, what Marr’s critics seem to have missed is his more casual association of blogging with so-called ‘citizen journalism: “Most citizen journalism strikes me as nothing to do with journalism at all.”

Well that might be the case, but to conflate blogging with an ill-defined notion of citizen journalism is lazy and inadequate.

In News 2.0 I have intiated a discussion of citizen journalism that argues that it is often used without any real definitional rigour – despite the now famous aphorism from NYU’s Jay Rosen that citizen journalism is the people formerly known as the audience armed with digital cameras and wifi.

It’s a cool idea and snappy, but Rosen’s casual definition is not enough. I think citizen journalism is a sub-category of what I call user-generated news-like content (UGNC). Citizen journalism has to be motivated by and driven by the word ‘citizen’ – that is there is some underlying purpose of citizenship attached to the news-like content. It also has to have a journalistic form.

I don’tjust mean an inverted pyramid, but it has to look like and smell like news.

Yes, the news form is shifting and the lines of the reportorial community are blurring, but there is still some point to putting boundaries around the production of information for public consumption that has the form of news and/or journalism.

User-generated news-like content is broader than poiltically-informed citizen journalism and encompasses eye-witness video or still images that are tweeted (Janis Krums’ Hudson river twitpics for example, or even video from the 2009 Iranian elections). But it is not journalism in this eyewitness form, it is unprocessed news-like information, but it has not undergone any of the formal labour that turn into a journalistic product and therefore ‘news’.

The famous Janis Krums tweet about the Hudson river plane crash

What Janis Krums did is not journalism, not even citizen journalism; it is a tweet from a digitally-enabled eye-witness.

It is, at best what we might call ‘accidental journalism’.

This information is not ‘news’ when Janis Krums tweets it; it is only news when it begins to circulate through news channels.

And it’s true that the number and type of news channels is expanding. News is now available via all forms of social media and casual UGNC can be circulated outside of established news channels, but we should not mix up these forms.

It seems to me that we too often do conflate eye-witness, accidental journalism and UGNC with citizen journalism. I also disagree with Marr’s dismissive view of these alternative forms of UGNC:

“…the so-called citizen journalism is the spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night.

“It is fantastic at times but it is not going to replace journalism.” [Andrew Marr's speech]

WhatMarr does here is mix up UGNC and blogging with this loosely-defined category of citizen journalism, and while it might serve his argument, it does not add to or clarify any real debate about what’s going on.

We have to separate these forms of UGNC  into analytically sound and clear definitional categories in order to fully explain and understand what’s happening to journalism today. It’s true that these forms won’t replace journalism, as Marr suggests, but they may well be incorporated, monetized, commercialised and de-radicalised.

Citizen journalism is important, in its political form it represents a challenge to the status quo and to the dominance of the MSM. As Chris Atton and James Hamilton point out in their book Alternative Journalism, much of citizen journalism is motivated by a distrust of the MSM and is in opposition to the values of the mainstream.

I have already critically reviewed Alternative Journalism, so won’t go over all the arguments again here, but one quote from my previous post on this topic is worth mentioning:

It seems that alternative modes of address in journalism – radical, questioning journalism – have had little, if any, real impact on capitalist hegemony. Of course they have, at least around the margins. Today we see further attempts at incorporation, as Atton and Hamilton point out – blogs are now mainstream and embedded in most commercial news websites.

[EM What is alternative journalism? July 13, 2009]

The key point is that blogs are now fairly mainstream. So too is user-generated news-like content. As I point out in News 2.0, the true inheritors of the Indymedia model of D-I-Y reportage are now outlets such as CNN’s iReport, or the bloggy-news aggregator/comment sites like Huffington Post or The Daily Beast. These sites are not established as a form of citizen journalism, they are commercial, reliant on aggregation from the MSM and on well-known middle-of-the-road celebrities from the established commentariat. What’s alternative about that?

The industrial-media-complex is not going to lie down and let citizen journalism, UGNC or ‘alternative’ journalism  amortize the eyeballs without a fight. As Huffington Post, The Daily Beast and other bloggy-news sites show, there is still an income stream to be had from monetizing the clickstream.

Perhaps this is best exemplified by rumours of a possible merger between the Daily Beast and the almost dead MSM brand Newsweek.

Media capital knows that to survive it must adapt, beg, borrow and steal and why not start by trading on the business models of successful online brands. As David Carr blogged earlier this week, the divide between mainstream news outlets, bloggy-news and broadcasting is breaking down:

More and more, the dichotomy between mainstream media and digital media is a false one. Formerly clear bright lines are being erased all over the place. Open up Gawker, CNN, NPR and The Wall Street Journal on an iPad and tell me without looking at the name which is a blog, a television brand, a radio network, a newspaper. They all have text, links, video and pictures. The new frame around content is changing how people see and interact with the picture in the middle.

[A vanishing journalistic divide, NYT October 10. 2010]

But it would be a mistake to confuse this with ‘citizen journalism’, or even ‘alternative journalism’. In fact it is the process of combined and uneven development in capitalism at work. The digital dialectic which sees the powerful media capitalists colonizing what used to be an alternative and liminal space in pursuit of surplus value and profits.

For the MSM moving into blogging, bloggy-news and online branding is just good business.

BTW: News 2.0 is at the printers and will be available in about 4-6 weeks. Don’t worry, you won’t miss it; I’ll be hawing it like mad.

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2 Responses to Not all bloggers still live with mum…blogging is not (citizen) journalism

  1. Jay Rosen says:

    What makes you think it was casual? I didn’t try to define citizen journalism until I thought I had nailed it. There was nothing casual at all in my attempt at a definition. Doesn’t mean it’s the correct one, of course. It’s only one sentence, but I assure it was not a casual sentence.

    [Hi Jay, cheers, I don't mean 'casual' in the sense that you didn't think about it. But I think 'casual' in the sense that it is pithy, in very un-academic language and shot in a casual style for the YouTube video.

    It's a one sentence definition of citizen journalism that has caught the world's attention. No doubt about that, but also 'casual' in the sense that it's been adopted as the definition and doesn't get much scrutiny. It's the norm now and I think it needs to be revisited.

    It's nice to hear from you.
    EM]

  2. Tim says:

    Andrew Marr responds to “angry, abusive and vituperative” citizen journalists with a series of knowingly inflammatory statements which are angry, abusive and vituperative.

    Good God, have we reverted to the law of the playground? “He’s ugly, sir! And really angry! And I really, really hate him!”

    A shame, because the point he was making about the need for us to recognise the economic value of accurate, professional news gathering and dissemination is a valid one. Instead, we get this tawdry, headline-grabbing tar-everyone-with-the-same-brush blunderbuss approach.

    Here are my thoughts on Marr’s comments. I would welcome your comments, as long as they’re not angry, abusive or vituperative, of course! ;-)

    [EM} Here’s a taste of Tim’s open letter to Andrew Marr

    Those of us who write and/or read blogs but who also treasure accurate, objective news-gathering and dissemination – and there are more of us than many naysayers think – recognise the difference between Angry Andy’s Bashing Blog and the BBC or the Wall Street Journal and their inherent economic value. There is a place in our lives for both types of journalism, though. Work with us, not against us, and you will find a body of willing advocates to help create an agile, 21st-century journalism which will endure and thrive in the digital age.

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