Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Citizen Journalism: an Experiment to a Better Media.

Citizen journalism has various terms. Some would call it participatory journalism; some other would rather use the word grassroots journalism. According to wikipedia, the free encyclopedia online, it is the act of citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.

In a more personal view as a writer, I see the term “citizen” as a reminder of the rights and obligations that we have as the citizen of a country and as the citizen of the global world. The internet era brought us to a wider scope of the citizenship. We are not only the citizen in term of legal papers but also the part of the “citizens” of the world.

According to Dan Gillmor, a former technology columnist who wrote the first blog at a newspaper website, citizen journalism websites is an experiment. The same interpretation came from Steve Outing, known for his eleventh layers of citizen journalism, when he had to close his Citizen Journalism website intended specifically for cyclists “The Enthusiast”.

There are traditional journalists whose being skeptic in the output of citizen journalism. Vincent Maher as an example, in 2005 he produced a paper titled “Citizen Journalism is Dead” in which he forwarded three deadly E’s in citizen journalism. They are Ethics, Economies, and Epistemology.

The participatory of readers has long been included in the conventional media. It could be presented either in a form of reader’s letters or in the presentation of news that is close to the needs of the media’s readers or audiences.

For the loyal readers of the Jakarta Post, this daily has gain a special place in their hearts also through its reader participation in your letters column. If we are now finding the comments in a blog or in a citizen journalism website as a direct participatory of readers, then more than ten years ago the Jakarta Post has already provided that kind of service. It was to no surprise if we encountered comments of readers commenting on other’s comment. There were even some familiar names that regularly sent their comments in Your Letters. That is the first layer of citizen journalism according to Steve Outing.

I clipped some letters (dated back to 1997) sent as the comments on an article about the deathly accident that happened to Lady Diana from the UK. It was also shown that the Jakarta Post as a part of an Indonesian local media which serves international readers had shown the participation of its readers as the part of the global world.

Vincent Maher, in his own blog, later in 2007 put more positive views on the trend of citizen journalism. Although he kept his skepticism, he admitted that citizen journalism is growing toward a better stand. Indonesia, after the first National Bloggers’ Party, seems evolving to widely accept the existence of citizen journalism. Mainstream media give more rooms for citizen’s opinions and started asking its readers’ view on certain topics.

Being a participant of a local citizen journalism website, as well as an international citizen journalism website OhmyNews International, I can see how this “experiment” will give benefits to the world of journalism.

Citizen in term of a hybrid citizen journalism website are not exclusively for non journalists. There are also senior journalists who deliberately contribute their articles and gave examples of how to write in the internet media. The new generations are more and more inclined to the internet. The preference to get news faster and easier made them turn into the electronic tools. E-mails, online journals or magazines, and e-books are the new genre of information. This new generation who is more adapt to the fast changing technology are the main consumers and (at the same time) actors of citizen journalism.

Citizen Journalism is giving the citizen of the global world the media to express their views and a tool to learn democracy. While forwarding views, the interactive of web 2.0 make it possible for a reader to directly post a comment. Then differences between views can be seen directly and sometimes can also spark disputes. Heated disputes in the cyber world if handled wisely could in turn provide a better ground for democracy. People can learn how to read (to listen), how to comment, and how to take comments, and in the long run understand how to value others’ opinion.

Another benefit is probably to enhance the mainstream media itself. With the raising voice of citizen journalism, the mainstream media will have their own back up in voicing the main concerns in building a better world. One can not accuse the media of shaping their readers’ opinion because readers’ opinions are becoming its basic sources in developing ideas of articles. Then on his recent experience, the combination of citizen and mainstream media made Vincent Maher had to agree on the pleasant side effect it brought along.

Citizen journalism websites could also be the training ground for the citizen to put their opinions in writing, while the future journalists are able to exercise composing their pieces of writings. It could also be the sources of editorial of the mainstream media to look for new talents. Professional journalists are also getting their freedom to put forward their views out of the guidelines of their own newsrooms. Credibility as shown in other business was not given for free. It has to be gained through actions.

Oh YeonHo, a former journalist who founded a hybrid style of citizen journalism website Ohmy News in Korea, forwarded a notion that every citizen is a reporter. In this sense, citizen became a watch dog of the government as well as to the conventional media. The function has long been provided in limited column of readers’ letters, but now it is given a bigger and more universal space.

In October 2007, Oh Yeon Ho was awarded the Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalis from the University of Missouri, Columbia. It showed that the school of journalism is taking his “experiment” with Ohmy News as something worth considering. Then in November Ohmy News has opened a citizen journalism school, another way to enhance the existence of citizens in journalism.

Hopefully with the rising of internet connections in Indonesia, there will be more and more Indonesian citizens involved in the global world of citizen journalism. While engaging more and more citizens into citizen journalism as shown all over the world, we can also hope that in the end process of this “experiment”, citizen journalism can avoid the trap of the three deadly E’s and will emerge as the mutual complement of the conventional media.

Yet, it is important for those involved in citizen journalism to keep on their idealism. That is the only way citizen journalism can function well as the complement of the mainstream media or the conventional journalism. Perhaps this is how we can have a better media in the future.

I prepared this for the Jakarta Post, but I did not hear any news from the editor since sending it after the New Year's celebration. This is not exactly what I would write for online readers, but it would save my time to just upload this one than editing it. Perhaps I'll do the editing later. In this recent week I've learn even more from the citizen journalism, the whole article should be totally rewritten to serve the online readers with newer facts.

No comments: