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Citizen Journalism: Proceed with evaluation

Did you hear that Steve Jobs had a heart-attack?

Of course you didn’t; because it wasn’t true. But last year, a fake or misinformed report on the ill health of the CEO of Apple prompted a momentary plunge of it’s stock before official sources rectified the false alarm. The market regained itself after the clear up, but it showed how much people were taking information on the net for granted.

The misleading report was posted on CNN’s iReport, where anyone is allowed to post “Unedited. Unfiltered. News”. The website embraces a growing online phenomenon called “citizen journalism” which has been defined by Bowman and Wills (2003 cited in Flew 2008, 144) as “the act of a citizen, or a group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and infroamtion”. As I mentioned in my last blog post on becoming a produser, with the rise of new media technologies, more and more people are able to state their voice to the public. But the downside of letting everyone and anyone have a say is, as the fake Steve Jobs heart-attack news showed, how do we know if we can trust what they say?

Before we believe anything we read on the internet, there are few evaluations we can do to determine the reliability of the information, and the QUT Library site gives a pretty comprehensive list of things to consider, but here are some major points:

  1. Research what others have said about the same topic
  2. Regard the credibility of the person who posted the information
  3. Check their references (and do they have any in the first place?)

But trying to do this alone means, at least for me, it’s going to take more time and effort. Sure it’s important to get your facts right, but it is easier if the journo’s did all the research, pursued interviews, and went to the scene of crime, while I just have to sit on my couch and listen to their 30 second run-down of their essential findings… However as the limitations of professional journalists become clearer, more people are turning to citizen journalism for the ‘whole truth’. But ‘finding the truth’ isn’t necessarily up to an individual to discover in citizen journalism; it is a continual process by the community.

Bruns (2007) has suggested that artifacts from produsage processes are never completed because it continues to be edited, updated and refined by other participants. This ‘communal evaluation’ allows people to identify and pick out infortmation that is unreliable  because “those contributions deemed useful and and relevant will be further improved upon, while those leading to dead ends of development…will remain un-used” (Bruns 2007, p.25).  In the case of the eariler example, once other sources revealed the error of the post, the administrators of CNN’s iReport quickly pulled it off the web. Many of the online news sites, like CNN’s iReport,  only allows select people to edit content, while there are more open sites that allow more blatant ‘collaborative editing ‘ (Flew 2008 145) such as wikinews.

More common ways in which ‘communal evaluation’ of news takes place , however, is by participant ratings (sometimes externally -e.g. Digg) and comments, where the more popular news posts can be regarded as the more important or relevant news to the community (Bruns 2007, 76). On the other hand,  therefore, if someone posts news that is dishonest or misinformed, others will be able to discredit their information by refering to other sources, or people will simply ignore it, and the reputation of the citizen reporter as being a trsutworthy source will definitely disintegrate.  Of course, this also happens to untruthful news reporting by traditional journalists; and in fact. one of the major roles of citizen journalism is said to be ‘Gate watching’ where news that comes through the conventional ‘Gate keeper’ news outlets are monitored by citizens to discern what news is most relevant to the community (Bruns 2007, 74).

So in a nutshell,  in traditional journalims it is the responsibility of the journalists to present to us the unbiased objective ‘truth’, while in citizen journalism the responsibility of ascertaining the ‘truth’ falls to us, the citizens.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.

 

References

Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang

Flew, T. 2008. New Media: an introduction. 3rd Ed. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Schonfield, E. 2008. Citizen “Journalists” Hits Apple Stock With False (Steve Jobs) Heart Attack Rumour. http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/10/03/citizen-journalist-hits-apple-stock-with-false-steve-jobs-heart-attack-rumor/ Accessed 3 May 2009.

QUT Library. Evaluating information. http://www.library.qut.edu.au/learn/learnhow/evaluatinginformation.jsp Accessed 4 May 2009.

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