Can Professional Journalism Ever Replace Citizen Journalism?

The headline of this blog post says it all – a quick contrarian post.

I am often asked if “right now citizen journalism could replace professional journalism.” My response is…. no.

There are certain characteristics of news organizations or “professional” journalism that if it were to stop tomorrow wouldn’t be easily replaced – if replaceable at all.

Since I’m often viewed as a poster-child for participatory journalism I can imagine some old-school journalists giving each other a hi-five, walking a littler taller, and feeling a sense of victory from a response like that.

But what I want to point out is the silliness of that question and pose its opposite.

The silliness of that question: If Major League Baseball stopped tomorrow would all the little leagues in the country be able to replace it? If industrial sweater factories shut down tomorrow would knitting hobbyists be able to replace them?

Nobody would ever ask these questions because the goal of little leagues and knitting groups isn’t to replace their professional counterparts. Instead, they are to create a sense of community, a positive activity for children and if they were to disappear there is no way their professional counterparts could replace them.

So I ask: If citizen journalism activities were to stop tomorrow could professional journalists replace them? My answer is no – and that will be part of my response to this question from now on.

In truth, however, that is the tit-for-tat response. So what is the real lesson here?

It is not an either/or question and what spawned this post is really just being tired of framing the question as such.

What I want to know isn’t if one can replace the other – but how the two might work together.

16 thoughts on “Can Professional Journalism Ever Replace Citizen Journalism?

  1. I completely agree with what you are saying here. There is and should be room for both. Whether you want facts or opinions, you can seek out either professional news sources or you can visit ‘citizen’ journalism. They both have the two aspects of news. The thing the ‘real’ news is missing, however are people’s reactions to the news. Which is just as much a part of news as the actual news. And so I would say that citizen journalism is more of a well-rounded place to get news, opinion and popular feelings about that news…

  2. I love the points you make in this post..

    Yes, there is absolutely a place for both, and it’s hard for me to understand why some journalists resist working with citizen journalists and their material. Journalism has always included eye witness testimonies, people’s reactions to events etc. Citizen journalism gives us so many creative ways to report on that stuff. Also, the growth is citizen journalism is yet another reason why professional journalists should be masters of social media – they should be finding the best/most relevant content and then include as part of a reported article / analysis.

  3. Citizen journalism cannot replace professional journalism, nor the reverse scenario you present. Rather, I think the two can coexist to improve the quality of information we all receive. While citizen journalism can compete on timeliness, though the laws of chance (somebody is there when news happens), it can not replace the objectivity and balance true professional journalists bring. This comes from years of practice working as professional journalists, not through shooting out blurbs on your latest thoughts about what you saw or heard.

  4. Spin it a different way. There are no professional journalists. All journalists are citizens. There are paid journalists, and unpaid journalists. There are print, television and Web journalists. Think of the Founding Fathers. Some were journalists. They weren’t professionals. They were citizens looking to, as a friend of mine put it, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Most “professional” journalists got into it for that very reason, and remain as such because of that. Every journalist plays a role in the process of a free society. We can’t do without them.

  5. This hits the nail on the head. I have a great relationship and respect for the local media.

    A citizen journalist can be closer to a story then a professional at times. Speaking for myself only I can get into “nooks and crannies” that are closed to the professional. Don’t ask me why people trust me and call me because I have not analyzed it. Maybe someone here can.

    I like to get the little nuances that fill in the blanks – the side story that puts it in perspective. Citizen journalists don’t have the resources, databases, or colleagues to collaborate a well-told story. Professionals have more contacts, clout, and bigger rolodexes.

    Example of what I’m trying to get at: a professional journalist tells me that he did not mention a comment by an elected official because “it did not go anywhere.” I thought the comment spoke volumes about how they were thinking and quoted it.

    There is no reason there can’t be both. If I were “Queen Valerie” I would wave my magic wand and have them work together. I am not a great writer and just learned what a pyramid is – I know my limitations and work hard to do better with every story … oh, and my punctuation really sucks.

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