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The rise of citizen journalism

John Carroll

Former editor, Los Angeles Times

John Carroll

... I think the Web opens up vast possibilities for good journalism and already has created many new voices that are valuable. But I don't think we can turn this thing over entirely to bloggers and citizen journalists. They're valuable, but there are things they can't do. ...

The marketplace of ideas has been expanded by them, but they don't have staffs of reporters going out. They don't have staffs of reporters covering the morgue. They don't have staffs of reporters covering the White House. They've got very little in the way of reporting resources. It's not their fault. They're not in a business that makes enough money to put reporters out on the street. ...

 
John Hinderaker

Blogger, Power Line

John Hinderaker

What I would like to see develop as time goes by is more citizen journalism. You hear a lot of talk about this from people on the Internet. Anybody in the world who's got a digital camera or digital movie camera potentially can be a reporter. I was really struck with the tsunami [that] hit Southeast Asia a year or two ago [December 2004], that of all the news coverage that grew out of that, to me, what was riveting was the video footage that was shot by tourists ... who just happened to have digital movie cameras with them when the wave came all the way into shore.

I found that footage just absolutely fascinating, and as time goes by, we're going to see more of that kind of citizen journalism, where people will create their own images, their own video footage. Over time, our hope is that the video part of [Power Line] evolves into a place where that kind of citizen journalism, as well as the other kinds of video, ... can be disseminated.

 
Jeff Jarvis

Blogger, BuzzMachine

Jeff Jarvis

Define for me "citizen journalism."

I have recanted the use of that term because I think it's a mistake, for two reasons: Number one is it defines journalism by the person who does it; ... the second reason is that I have journalists coming to me all the time and saying: "Well, I'm a citizen, too. Why don't you call me a citizen?" ... So I call it "network journalism" because I think there's an opportunity now to have collaboration in journalism that was never possible before. ...

Before we just had audiences, and we lectured to them, and we gave them stuff. Now if we give the opportunity, they know stuff we don't know, so they can share more news with us, whether it's at the 7/7 [London Transit] bombing or whether it's at the school board meeting. They can share more news than we can afford to gather. Then they can turn around, and they can help organize. ...

In the tsunami [of December 2005], there was a blogger from the West Coast who wrote mainly about marketing; she wasn't a journalist at all. She found herself in Thailand for the tsunami, and she did spectacular journalism for two weeks. Then she went back home and pretty much went back to being a marketer. She did journalism. She wasn't a journalist; she wasn't a member of the club. She wasn't trained, but she did spectacular journalism. ...

Now, is there a role for journalism in this? Absolutely there is. There's a role for reporting; that's our primary value. There's also a role for editing. But I think the role of the journalist changes. As more of this goes around, it's the role of the journalist to be more of a moderator and an enabler and an educator. ...

There is a TV station in Nashville, WKRN, that invited bloggers back into the station and showed them how to shoot better video. They at first said to the videographers, "Don't worry; your job is safe." But then they started paying for that video, and they got more video from more people, then more news. Well, that's a good thing. ...

Journalists aren't the only ones with a license to operate journalism. Anyone can perform an act of journalism. I think it's a big mistake to define journalism by the person who does it. Anyone can do journalism. When you witness news and you can now capture on your phone, you can share that with the world over the Internet, you're performing an act of journalism.

Doesn't it make the term journalism almost meaningless? I'm a teenager and I'm walking down the street and taking pictures on my phone, that's an act of journalism?

Sure, if you're finding out something that the world doesn't know and wants to know and you tell them? Yes. Why does it have to be the exclusive purview of somebody who has a job and a suit and a tie and a notebook? That's ridiculous.

So you have to send the picture to someone else to be journalism?

Motive matters, sure. Not all bloggers want to be journalists. The Pew [Internet and American Life Project] recently did a survey and found that 33 percent of bloggers think they're doing anything related to journalism. The rest are just people talking, and that's how I define blogs: Blogs are people talking. They are your constituents; they're your customers, and if you don't listen to them, you're a damn fool.

But then above that, yes, some people do choose to do journalism. They find out something and they report that to the world and they do it accurately and to do it fairly and they do it completely and you can have the exact same standards as a journalist. ...

But when you say something like 60 Minutes should just put all their outtakes ... out there, ... there's a lot of material in there that, first of all, they may not want other people to see, mixed cues by the correspondent.

TV's not perfect. We're human. ... The value of journalism is the substance of what you say. You've got a very fancy structure here. Pull the camera back and look at two cameras and all these lights and all these microphones, right? A very expensive way to do this. It has nothing to do with the substance of what you say. ...

Lots of people scribble and draw pictures; Some people are artists because they have talent and they've added with that education and practice and dedication, and they draw better pictures. .... It sounds like ... you're saying quantity equals quality.

No, no, no, no. ... It's foam on the latte, right? So it looks nicer, sure, but when I show video to my students at CUNY [City University of New York], they actually prefer the rawer video, the less produced video, because it gives them ... more of a sense of what's going on, and they can judge for themselves. I think we've overproduced things. I think we've defined quality by the tools that we happen to control. ...

We argued for decades whether content is king or distribution is king, and I argue that neither is. They both make contributions, but conversation is the king. ... I'm teaching my students to think in photos and audio and video and text and graphics and any way that's right to tell the story and the way people want to get the story. ...

In fact, the headline and the lead may be all I want to know. But if I do want to dig, the power of the link now is that I can dig, I can get more. ... I don't mean you have to put out everything, but if you put out your stuff as FRONTLINE does, people may find more gems in there. ...

Josh Wolf, a blogger, is today in prison. ...

I believe in the need for shielding sources and whistleblowers from exposure, so what they know can come out and reporters can bird-dog government as a result. But it does become difficult when journalism opens up and anyone can do it, because if we try to decide [that] only professional journalists get this protection, we've just licensed journalists, and we've just given the power to the government to take away that license, and that's no good. ...

The question is if you expand the world of journalism to your 5 million bloggers or more, do they get the right to defy law enforcement, to defy a grand jury?

That's exactly the issue, and I believe that we cannot create a class system of journalism and say that only some people performing certain acts of journalism get protection that others who perform acts of journalism do not. That just does not wash. We can all publish to the world now; we can all be journalists now. But yes, that does complicate things when it comes to criminal prosecution, and I don't know where we end up. I don't have an answer. It's a rare thing for a blogger to say, but I don't have an answer. ...

The interesting thing about Josh Wolf to me ... is that I think ... professional journalists, the journalism organizations, the mainstream media and the online Web sites that say they're journalist Web sites haven't rushed to his defense.

Well, there have been bloggers who have defended him, and there are organizations of bloggers working to defend him, and I blogged about it as well and pointed attention to it, which is really all I could do. I think that's an issue. We in professional journalism have to recognize that we have colleagues who are out there in the amateur ranks, and that if their rights are impinged, so are ours. ...

Do you think Josh Wolf should be in jail?

I don't think that Josh Wolf should be in jail. ... However, there are cases where a journalist has facts that are relevant to a crime, and maybe that's a lie, I don't know. That was part of the fight around Judy Miller and The New York Times, was that she had some awareness of a crime being done in government. So the irony there was that we weren't bird-dogging the government for what they were doing. It's a touchy issue, and I'm not sure where I come down. ...

You think it's a gray matter for journalists? They have to decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to protect that source?

It's what they do. They decide when the discussion starts whether to make that deal. ...

But once you make that deal, do you, Jeff Jarvis, blogger-journalist, are you willing to go to jail to protect that person?

I don't know. I don't know, because if I believe that person was defrauding [me], does the deal still hold?

Well, let's assume they didn't defraud you. ...

I don't know.

So be careful if you tell Jeff Jarvis, blogger, a secret?

Yeah. And I abhor those secrets as a rule. When people try to talk to me off the record, I hate that. I often leave events that are held off the record, because I think it's usually silly. We rely far too much in our business on anonymous sources. We don't reveal enough to people because we got too addicted to that. To allow anonymity is a precious thing.

Now, of course, you're going to say there's anonymity aplenty on the Internet, and that anonymity, by the way, is a very important tool for people to be able to say what they want to say unhindered. But I always tell them in my blog that if you don't have the guts to stand up behind what you say with your name, I am going to respect what you say less; I'm going to trust it less. That's my decision; that's my gauge of trust. So in any case in journalism, when we use anonymous sources, we are holding something back from the public that allows them to judge the veracity of what we're reporting to them. ...

So how do you rate Mr. [Bob] Woodward's reporting a series of books, for instance, on the Bush administration replete with [anonymous sources]?

It's part of what we know. I'm just saying it's simply better if we know the source. Am I saying that I don't trust it at all if it's an anonymous source? No, but I'm saying that if I understand who the source is, I'm going to be able to judge that information better. ... It may seem a little glib, but I would also argue that today Deep Throat could have had a blog, could have been anonymous on the Internet, could have revealed something to the world anonymously. ...

But if Deep Throat had done that, and it hadn't gone through The Washington Post, ... it's not clear anybody would have done it at that point, because [there] was no way to evaluate who the source was. ...

True, and to this day, until only a few years ago, we couldn't judge that source, so we judged Woodward, which is fine. We chose to, and he was right, and he went and did a lot of work to confirm what that source said. The story did not come whole from the source. That's the whole part of the story, is that they went out and reported. ...

Right. You have to use standards. You had to have editors pound at you --

The more you do of that, the more reliable your reporting is, whoever you are. ...

When I talk to students about [the Internet], I tell them if it's about public records or things like that, you can't trust what's there on the Internet; it's probably right, but you might even find more if you go down and look in the actual file. ... Are those techniques going be lost?

Not at all, not at all. I filed a Freedom of Information [Act (FOIA)] request to the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] when they put on the largest fine in their history at that moment against a show called Married by America for illegal use of whipped cream. They said that there was an outcry in America against the show; they said there were 159 complaints, which really seems small to me. I asked to see them. I got them, ... and I found out that in the end result there were actually less than that. In the end, there were only three people who sat down to actually write a complaint. ...

I did that. Other bloggers see, yes, it's very easy to file FOIAs, and they file FOIAs, too. Our role should not be in saying, "Well, we know how to do this, and you don't." Our role should be in teaching people how to do just that. ...

We interviewed [The New Yorker's] Nick Lemann. He says, I don't have anything against bloggers, ... but there is a peculiar role for reporting in our society, because it's reliable, has standards and accuracy. You don't differ with that, do you?

Not in full. I think it's a red herring to pit this war of mainstream media versus bloggers. We're all in this together. We want a better-informed society. So the question is, how do we get there? We have new ways to get there. So it's not just the belief that journalists are the only ones who have trust and reliability.

In fact, the people correct us, and if we're good about our job, then we say thank you. Dan Rather didn't say thank you. Dan Rather waited 11 days after ... his big story on 60 Minutes [was] found to be questionable to say anything. Recently, when there were photographs [of Israeli attacks] in Beirut that were seen to be faked by a Reuters [freelance] photographer [Adnan Hajj], Reuters immediately came out and pulled those photos and thanked the bloggers for finding out that they'd been faked. ...

What has the blogging universe added to the world of journalism? Is there any particular story that it's broken, that it's done that you're proud of?

The poster-boy example in the blog world is [Talking Points Memo's] Josh Marshall and other bloggers staying on the story of [Sen.] Trent Lott praising [the 1948 presidential pro-segregation campaign of Sen.] Strom Thurmond. He lost his job [as majority leader], though he's now back. ...

But I don't think it's just about reporting one's story. It's also about setting the agenda. It's also about keeping stories alive and telling mainstream [media] what they ought to be doing. Three years ago, reporters I knew wouldn't admit or wouldn't read blogs. Now, they all read blogs, and most of them write blogs, too. And they find themselves in linked conversations. And you know what? It's good for their stories; it's good for their journalism. ...

I just blogged this morning that ... Huffington Post blog is hiring editors now, an editor from Newsweek and The New York Times. The political editor and a top correspondent of The Washington Post just left The Washington Post to go online. Bloggers are reporting; newspapers are blogging. The lines are going to blur, so I think it's a false narrative to say that there is a war between bloggers and mainstream media. ...

Sounds like Jayson Blair [the New York Times reporter discovered to have fabricated numerous stories] could be a blogger and that would be OK with you.

Jayson Blair would have gotten caught a lot faster, I think, just as Dan Rather was caught faster by the bloggers than he was by the ... system of CBS News.

Jayson Blair was up there on The New York Times Web site with his articles for years; nobody said anything in blogging. It took another reporter who was there at the scene who wrote copy that turned out was plagiarized to catch him, not a blogger. ... Newspapers self-correct.

Oh, but they take a long time. When was the last time you saw a correction on a TV show? It takes forever to get a correction there. I get corrected like that in my blog, and if I don't respond to that correction, act on it, my credibility descends immediately. People will link to me and say, "See, he doesn't care about the facts." ...

Well, Nick Lemann says, "Show me where on the Internet this vast group of citizen journalists has actually done some really strikingly new journalism." ...

We're seeing the beginnings of it, and I would hope his response would have been, how can I find ways to do more of it with them? But I'll give you one little example. There's a coalition -- right, left, libertarian -- of bloggers who don't like pork [in the government], and they started something called Porkbusters. With other organizations of bloggers, they saw that there was an accountability bill in the Senate that would have put up spending bills online that were being blocked by a secret hold. So they said to the bloggers: "OK, all of you call your senators' offices and find out whether they're the ones putting the hold on it. Ask them to say on the record whether they are not." ... At the end, there were two senators who put the hold on who had to admit -- Senators [Ted] Stevens [R-Alaska] and Robert Byrd [D-W.Va.]. So they admit it in public; the hold went off; the bill was passed. We now have accountability of that spending legislation on the Internet. I say that's an act of journalism.

Could be an act of political organizing also.

Yes, it could be. Well, when the newspaper decides what to report, there's an act of advocacy there. They chose to say that's a priority and that's not, so it's the same thing. The line between advocacy and journalism has always been close, closer than we admitted in professional journalism, and it's close here, too. ...

Not if you say, "I go wherever the facts take me," and I'm not starting out with a presumption that pork is bad, in your example.

Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Come on, Lowell, come on. In any big news organization, you say, "Let's go find that government waste." ... 60 Minutes, FRONTLINE, you choose to go after stories because there's a reason to go after that story, and the decision of that reason is a decision of advocacy. It's not a decision [made] out of some objectivity. ...

[Lemann] thinks that you -- meaning the blogging universe -- are hypersensitive. He made an analogy to having grown up in Louisiana and the Deep South and the way that they looked at New York. ...

Well, I think this is a silly narrative. It's just like journalism to try to make a fight where one doesn't have to exist. ... My problem with journalism is that it's too long been separate. My friend [media critic and blogger] Jay Rosen at New York University makes that point, that a lot of things that journalists do to be separate from the public they serve, they say they're objective, "I don't vote; I'm professional." ...

That's a lie of omission. … It says that somehow, "I'm different from all the rest of you; I don't have opinions." Well, of course you have opinions; you're human. By not telling us what those are, by not being transparent about that, you're not trusting us to be able to then judge what you say on the basis of its quality. ...

I grew up with the standard of this ethic of objectivity; I now have been taught by the blogosphere an ethic of transparency. ... A good journalist will still do an intellectually honest job and tell us the facts completely and fairly, whether or not it backs up the opinion they happen to have, and we will judge their veracity and their credibility as a reporter as a result. Instead, what happens in American journalism is that we guess what the hidden agendas are, and that's not healthy for us. That leads to gotcha moments in journalism. ...

We had an economic model until the Internet came along that appeared to be developing higher- and higher-quality journalism. You came out of that economic model. ... How do you preserve that body of knowledge, that tradition, that understanding in this period where it looks like major news organizations are going to be not only cutting back in terms of their coverage around the world, but also even their coverage domestically and in some cases locally?

I think you're using the wrong verb, "preserve." The opportunity now is to grow it. I'm a cockeyed optimist about journalism and news today. There are tons of ways to expand and explode journalism into the tentacles of society more than was ever possible before. ... But what I hear in American newsrooms [is about] preserving the newsroom, preserving the jobs ... and preserving the budget of the newsroom. ...

If you invented journalism today, you wouldn't have the same structure of the newsroom and the print. You wouldn't have all this hoo-hah for TV. You could if you chose to spend the money on it, but I [would] far rather see this money going to more reporting, ... to educating people to how to get better facts about their government and society. And that's possible now. ...

Journalism has to get far more innovative and inventive. ... I'm beginning to see it happen. Gannett -- not the company that I would have expected to be widely innovative -- has just blown up its newsrooms and changed its structure and become agnostic to media and seven-by-24 in their coverage. They care about new ways to get news including data, and they care about having the people in the community help report. Whether they can pull this off or not I don't know, but that's the right spirit. And I'm seeing that from Gannett, not from the L.A. Times. ...

The L.A. Times is not doing it?

Not that I've seen. The rhetoric that I hear about the L.A. Times is about protecting the newsroom and protecting the size of that. There's a tremendous amount of waste in American journalism. We send 15,000 journalists to the political conventions where nothing happens. Whatever does happen, you can watch it online and on C-SPAN. Why? Ego: We had our person there to do the same thing that the next person did.

Why does every town in America need a movie critic? I started the magazine of criticism, Entertainment Weekly. I love criticism. But the truth is, they don't; the movie's the same across the country. Why do they need an NFL writer and a golf writer? Why do we need editors re-editing AP [Associated Press] stories that have already been edited and re-edited? Why do we give people stock tables when they're going to get them online and it costs a fortune to print? We do it because we fear we're going to lose one more reader. ...

What the L.A. Times' now-former editors [Dean Baquet and John Carroll] say is: "We are one of the last four national newsgathering [organizations] in the United States who also are international. We think it's of public service that we have four people in Baghdad. It costs a lot of money, but it's in the public interest to have as many people covering Iraq as possible." ...

Who says that's the cut to make? Why isn't the cut to make let's get rid of the stock tables? Michael Kinsley arrived at the L.A. Times as opinion editor; he had 16 people writing 21 editorials a week. Take five of them and put them in Baghdad. Fine. See? ... The world has changed. Why shouldn't journalism? ...

But what they're saying is ... we have to avoid the problem that network news is now in where ... you now have one person at CBS who covers the Supreme Court, the Justice Department and the FBI all at once, every day. ...

Well, that's a management issue. ... No one is telling you have to get rid of your Supreme Court correspondent. They're telling you this is a business and we've got to deal with new business realities. ... My friend Jim Willse at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J., killed the stock tables in April of 2001. He invested money in making a much better business section, but he saved a $1 million a year on paper and ink for those stock tables. ...

Today we operate out of the fear that [readers will] leave us if we get rid of a cartoon or a stock table. We operate out of the ego to think they'll come to us because we have a columnist logo. They're going to come to us if we contribute value to the community, and that value is going to come from reporting. So let's find the ways to put more resources directly into reporting.

The Los Angeles Times put the resources in to look at the local community hospital -- nobody else on the Internet or anywhere else was doing anything like that -- an in-depth look that has resulted in significant change, may have saved lives. The Los Angeles Times put the resources in to track down the stolen art that was at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. ... The fear is the resources won't be there ... to do that kind of reporting, especially as you go and transition to the Internet.

There's a new medium and a new way to do things, and so among the ways to get journalism over to that new world and that new growth are to find new efficiencies. ... What's the relationship of the newspaper to that journalist? ... It could be that they could hire them, but they're not hiring anymore. It could be, perhaps, that the business side creates an advertising network across a web of good, trusted, reliable people doing journalism. ...

There are new ways to maybe get public-supported journalism. NPR and PBS get money from the public and do great journalism. Jay Rosen at NYU has started something called newassignment.net, which is an effort to see whether people will support journalism with their ideas and their money and their reporting. That's not the solution to all journalism; the point is we have to find many models, many new ways to do things. ...

Someone is going to go investigate the hospitals; someone's going to figure that out. I hope it's still the journalistic organization, the newspaper, but if it's not, other journalists may band together to figure out a way to do it. ...

To do an in-depth story or investigation of a powerful institution usually requires resources, and you're in jeopardy doing this story, because they can come back to you either with subpoenas or lawsuits or possibly worse. ... Don't you see some danger in the future, as this changing economic model goes on with the Internet, that ... that kind of reporting won't happen?

I'm concerned about the lack of support to journalism by whomever is committing those acts of journalism. ... The Media Law Research Center is tracking I think more than 50 suits against bloggers right now, some of them pure harassment. We have to defend them, because if we don't defend them, then the rights of all journalists are affected. Yes, I'm concerned about it at every level and every rank. ...

We interviewed the CEO of Google, [Eric Schmidt]. He says that the biggest challenge facing the Internet today is reliability. There's too much information out there that is either fraudulent or irresponsible, and how do you sift through all of that? Isn't that the problem? You need professionals to do that.

Why a professional?

An educated person like yourself, who has experience in the business.

I want the people who know what they're talking about, whom I trust, to tell me what they know. They may not have gone to school, but they may know a lot. They may not be paid to do this, but they maybe do it well. ... I find that odd for Eric Schmidt to say, because ... Google would be nowhere if the people didn't click on what they see as valuable. That's what makes Google Google. The wisdom of the crowd is Google freeze-dried. That's it. ...

Define "wisdom of the crowd" and how that relates to Google.

The "wisdom of the crowd" holds that the crowd is smarter than the smartest individual in it, that as a group they know more. That's what makes Google tick: Google watches what we click on, what we link to, and Google then says that's the better thing, because the people, the crowd, did that. ... Now, that's not the only way to get knowledge. The problem with Google is that yes, their junk comes up in there, or sometimes people can spam it. Nonetheless, it's an incredibly valuable resource that is made possible because the Internet was able to capture the wisdom of the crowd, the wisdom of the people as editor. ...

So the wisdom of the crowd really identifies quality, you say.

It can. Let me tell you a story. I was a TV critic at People magazine in the mid-80s when the remote control passed 50 percent penetration on American couches. ... I did a piece on a CBS morning program about the season-end ratings, and the producer came up to me and said, "You're saying that the top shows in the ratings this year are good." And I said, "Yeah." And she said, "Well, you're defending the taste of the American people." I recoiled in horror. I said, "No, I'm a snob; I wouldn't do that." She said, "You are." ... Television, of all things, proved that we have taste and intelligence, because when we had more shows to watch, we watched the good shows: [The] Cosby [Show] and Hill Street Blues and all these things rose in the ratings, and Beverly Hillbillies, which was the wisdom of network executives, disappeared. ...

So the Internet is a grand mechanism for giving control to the people. The people of China will not be controlled ever again as they have been in the past, because they will get around that control with the Internet. The people of Iran have an incredible blogosphere now, where they can talk to the world and the world can talk to them. I've made friends in Iran as a result. ...

Google [in] China self-censored because the government of China says: "You want to make money in our country? You don't publish those pictures." ... What's to say the Internet can't be manipulated and used by government, corporations, other institutions? ...

There was just an effort [out of Citizen Lab] in Toronto announced last week of a new anti-censorship technology that will help the Chinese get around their censors. We'll find the way around the tyrants. We'll find the way around the controls and corruptions. I have the faith in the people. ...

Your business partner, Craig Newmark [of craigslist], says you're developing some software that will help people look at reliability in terms of information with you.

Craig Newmark invested in a company called Daylife, which is our partner, and it will help people find the news that they trust. ... The standards, in the end, are not set by us. The standards are set by the people who judge us. ... Now, that still means that you can learn better ways to do things -- absolutely; I don't question that -- but it's not as if that then becomes the sole precinct of the professional class. ...

My 14-year-old son is a huge fan of Digg.com, where the audience votes up the stories to make the front page. I had him come into the faculty of the City University of New York with their School of Journalism to show Digg, and the faculty got concerned -- what if a bad story gets up there? He very calmly pointed [at] a pull-down menu and said: "See, I pulled this down, and it says that this is lame. I click on that, and it's gone." ...

Google and the free Wild West of the Internet -- being able to just freely get information -- may be a passing phenomenon, because there are newspaper organizations both here in the United States and particularly overseas, where the laws are different, who are saying, "You're going to have to start paying."

I've seen the few publishers, especially in Europe, who object to the idea of being linked to by Google and search engines. They're fools. That's like saying to the newsstand owner: "You shouldn't make a penny off selling my newspaper. Stop." Google is the newsstand of the future. You're only going to be found via the link and a search engine, and most publishers I see know that. …

 
Ted Koppel

Former anchor, Nightline

Ted Koppel

... Do you think that [blogging and other Internet technology] is more of the future of journalism? There's a lot of talk about citizen journalism, participatory -- everyone can be a journalist. Al Gore started a TV channel, Current TV, out in San Francisco; anyone can show up with a video.

Yeah. I was giving speeches about this 20 years ago. I say I'm a Luddite, and I am, but I could see the way the industry was going. Look, when I was a young journalist, if I wanted to be seen and heard in the United States, across the land, I had three options: I could go to ABC, NBC or CBS, period, end of story. These days, and for a long time, any person with a video camera and a little editing gear and access to the Internet can be a network by himself or herself. …

Yeah, I think that's inevitable. But having said that, when people want to know a little bit about the reliability or the quality of the information that they're getting -- it may be that they have found a blog site that they now have been accessing for a year or two years, and they find it to be accurate 90 percent of the time, God bless them. That's better than we do. But much of the time, the problem with getting material on the Internet is you don't know where it's coming from, and you don't know anything about the people who are producing the material.

That's OK, but at least when you're watching Rather -- or these days Bob Schieffer or Katie Couric or Charlie Gibson, or whoever it is who happens to be doing the news -- you've seen them for 20 years, 30 years. You know something about them. You know they are part of an organization in which what that one person writes doesn't get on the air just the way he or she writes it. There's at least a producer or an editor who looks at it and says, "You know, Ted, I don't think that's accurate; you made a mistake here," and then you go back and you check it. In the final analysis, the most important thing about journalism is editing. ...

 
Nicholas Lemann

Dean, Columbia University School of Journalism

Nicholas Lemann

The headline that I would put on the article is, "The citizen journalism movement, as I'm reading it thus far, does not do very much original reporting." The claim is made that citizen journalists are really doing important investigative local reporting on public affairs, as good as or better than old-fashioned formal news organizations. But I don't see it out there in these citizen journalism sites.

Yes, you can point out one or two examples. But, you know, every time somebody e-mails me, which is practically every day now, and says, "You've got to go look at this site." You go there, and it's 99 times out of 100 a site that offers genial, interesting commentary on what's going on, not hard digging about the governance and business of whatever community it is.

Are you saying that they're not serious because they're simply amateurs?

I'm saying that I think reporting is a highly socially valuable activity, and most citizen journalists that I've encountered on the Internet don't do reporting. It's that simple. They don't go out and interview people. They don't go out and actively seek information.

There is a bright-line difference in my mind between opinion -- there is nothing wrong with it; it's where journalism started, and it's a great, honorable thing -- and reporting, which is a relatively recent addition to the panoply of what journalism does. It involves what I used to do: You go out and interview people all day, and you try to find out what's going on, and you offer as accurate a report as you can to the general public on what's going on. You bring the news; you gather the news.

Almost no citizen journalists are doing that. That doesn't mean they're amateurs; that doesn't mean they're bad; that doesn't mean they're not journalists. They're just not doing original reporting or newsgathering. That's what I'm saying.

So when [former Los Angeles Times editor] John Carroll says the organizations that gather most of the original information every day are in danger, that means the content which people on the Internet use every day may be drying up?

I think there's a real point there. I am less pessimistic about the newspaper business than John is. I'm more optimistic about the future of reporting that is a small subcategory of all of journalism.

It is true: A lot of journalism on the Web takes original reporting done by traditional media -- number one on the list would be daily newspapers, but a lot comes from the BBC and other broadcast outlets and various forms of daily traditional journalism -- and aggregates it, comments on it, reprocesses it. If all that stuff went away, the Web journalism environment would be a lot less rich. … You need news organizations to support reporters who do the reporting that supports all this wonderful explosion of commentary that we have.

But there are sites on the Internet that are trying to do real reporting, right? [Talking Points Memo's] Josh Marshall, who did the [Sen.] Trent Lott story, says he's attempting to do that and hiring reporters to do that.

Yeah, I admire Josh for hiring reporters. The Trent Lott story, [in which Lott praised the 1948 presidential campaign of Sen. Strom Thurmond, who ran on a hard-line segregationist platform], it should be said, is a complicated case, because this is something Trent Lott said before an open mic. There were 30 reporters in the room when he said it. It's not as if [Josh] ferreted out the fact that Lott said it. What he did is -- and this is where bloggers add a lot of value -- there's always 87 zillion things going on in the world, and the focus can only be on three or four of them. So journalism is highly selective.

Bloggers are very good at saying to the mainstream press, "Here's an item that you haven't selected as important, and we demand that it be treated as important." Then they can sometimes, if they have a good argument, get it elevated. That's what happened with Trent Lott, in my view.

And Dan Rather?

Dan Rather's a sort of fact-checking case, but that's another case where I think the bloggers did have an influence. In other words, while that piece was on the air in 60 Minutes II, bloggers were going online and saying, "We question the veracity of this." They put it into play. And because 60 Minutes II did not have an airtight case as to where they got those documents, it caused the story to collapse.

Conversely, if bloggers are going after something where there's no real weakness, they're not going to have that effect. But again, none of this is what I would call original reporting, which is the thing that journalists do that is of especially great social value.

 
Markos Moulitsas

Blogger, Daily Kos

Markos Moulitsas

But there's something else there -- and I think it speaks to ... sports, it speaks to politics -- is that people want to be part of the media. They don't want to sit there and listen anymore. They're too educated. They're taught to have initiative and be go-getters and not to sit back and be passive consumers, and the traditional media is still predicated on the passive consumer model. You sit there and watch.

In sports you see it in talk radio, where people desperately try to get on -- call the host to say something, and the host makes fun of them and hangs up on them, and that's it, right? Suddenly we have a medium where people are actually rewarded for wanting to have a say in their team, their favorite players, team strategy, whatever it might be. They want to talk about their team. Then we have these outlets where now they can go actually do that, and that's proven to be a very, very powerful draw, more so than I ever expected when I even started doing these sports blogs.

It's democratizing the media?

Absolutely. It's definitely democratizing the media. Barrier to entry is even lower, because for me, I had to create the site -- find a template, get a designer -- so there was some sweat equity. Now with sites like Daily Kos and these sports blogs, you can go to an existing site and just start participating. It doesn't take anything but time, and they're terribly addicting. I tell people who don't go to blogs that [if] they value their family lives and want to keep their jobs, they might want to stay away from the blogs, because they can be so addictive.

But that's it. People don't want to be trivialized; they don't want to be treated as merely numbers in our ratings chart. They want to actually participate in the discussion. They want to be part of the conversation, and now we have a medium that allows them to be part of that conversation.

 
Craig Newmark

Founder, craigslist

Craig Newmark

A lot of people, myself included, are excited about blogging and stuff like that, citizen journalism, but I do remind people that no matter how excited we are, there's no substitute for professional writing, no substitute for professional editing, and no substitute for professional fact checking. The problem is that with blogging, the model is publish first, maybe fact check later. In newspapers, the model is you fact check first and then publish. But those models are merging. ...

The Internet is a cacophony of voices, and over time, there are more professional voices?

Let's say that, OK, on the Net we do have news commentators and news reporters, and out of that confusion, we are beginning to see the emergence of voices who speak truth to power and who are trustworthy and who back up what they're saying. It's a slow process, but it's being accelerated as new ways of delivering news come online. There's Digg.com emerging, as is Daylife.com. We're going to see a lot more. The idea is we need help figuring out what's going on, and we need help figuring out what voices we should listen to. ...

 
Brian Ross

Chief investigative correspondent, ABC News

Brian Ross

What's your reaction to what people call citizen journalism on the Web?

It's interesting. There's so much of it, I think, in the end, you need somebody to sort of tell you what is important. It comes back to the editing function. But I love reading all of that; to me it's fascinating. The one thing that we've added in The Blotter, for instance, is a place for people to comment. Some stories will provoke really hundreds if not thousands of responses and internal debates and criticism of us: Why would you put a story like that on the air? And then somebody else will respond, "Well, of course that's what they're supposed to do."

It's fascinating to watch it. ... That's a great thing that we can do that, because you don't really get that on television, but you do get it here. ...

Editor's Note: After this interview was conducted, in September 2006, a reader of The Blotter submitted a lead via e-mail, which led Ross and his team to investigate Rep. Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) correspondence with members of the congressional page program. Foley resigned from Congress over the ensuing scandal.

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posted feb. 13, 2007; last updated feb. 27, 2007

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