Freedom (of the Press) Fighters

For centuries, citizens have relied on the media to get their news. Whether it be regarding world politics, who their favorite team is trading, or which celebrity is the newest train wreck, people turn to various sources to get information. These are mainly are from print, such as newspapers and magazines, and broadcast, which includes television and radio.

Traditionally, the pieces are delivered by writers, journalists and reporters, almost all of them professional. But in recent years citizen journalism, which refers to idea of non-professionals (usually everyday citizens) reporting, has risen dramatically.

It has become an issue today, because some feel that it is not the responsibility of the general public to report and that they should leave it up to journalists and others in the fields. Also, their stories might have a severe lack of objectivity given that the are not coming from trained or schooled sources. Others, however, see it as a free right.

Young people have taken notice, mainly because they are one group engaging in the activity.

So how exactly do they feel? Students at Nassau Community College had a lot to say, and they were privy to the seeing positives of the issue.

“ When people are not driven by agenda, they are free to write about what they really believe in.” Said Adam Michaelson.

Michaelson’s comment refers to the fact that since citizen journalists are less likely to be governed by a boss or editor, they have the choice to select what topic they would be most interested in covering, or one that might hit the closest to home. For the latter, many have set up blogs, on-line journals illustrating views on everything from day-to-day life, to opinions on movies or political races.

The internet has blasted citizen journalism into the stratosphere. Technology has given us the means to get our ideas out in the open without even having to leave our bedroom. E-mail lets stories be sent back and forth instantly, while search engines make finding a fact which might have taken hours of research to come across in earlier times available in only minutes. Blogs, which can be created for free, let a person report or commentate at whatever length and rate they choose. As many celebrities and politicians have created their own blogs, many bloggers may feel a sense of validation from the possibly growing legitimacy of blog-use.

But the internet has assisted more than just independent journalists.

“ I think the internet has helped [journalism.]” Michaelson said. “ A lot of people don’t pick up a paper, but they go online. A lot of major news organizations are relying on it.”

Indeed, news sites often ask their followers to send in their own stories electronically, to contribute to coverage, which may be a beacon of growing appreciation for citizen journalism.

Nassau students differed, through, on the subject of whether it was the citizen’s responsibility to report, particularly if they were a witness who might be one of few people prepared to report accurate facts. (For instance, a civilian who was present for a bank robbery or act of vandalism.)

“ It’s their obligation.” Samantha DeVictoria said.

Michaelson was not so quick to agree with her.

“ It depends on how sensitive the information is.”

A photographer himself, [Michaelson] also commented on the use of photography in citizen (photo)journalism.

“ It’s all in the story. You can twist any picture, and that can be a problem.”

Since cameras are everywhere, including most cell phones, many people use more than words to put stories out there.

But Michaelson picks up on one of several negatives that exist concerning citizen journalism.

“ Some of it is a lot more biased. It is harder to site sources. People can end up spewing a whole lot of untracked (expletive).”

One comment by DeVictoria added to a sense of disregard for citizen journalism.

“People don’t take what they have to say seriously. There is a big gap in between what is professional and what is not.”

Even a talented writer who may be accurate and non-biased may have his work looked over or frowned upon if he is not writing for a professional publication. But is this reasonable?

DeVictoria thinks a cue exists that professionals might take from citizen journalists, despite a widespread notion that their work is of lesser value.

“ Be more honest.”

With citizen journalism on the rise, but mixed feelings from professionals concerning it remaining the same, the two will simply have to learn to coexist.

-Amy Eiferman