Crossroads Reporting: The Intersection of Traditional Media and Citizen Journalism (2008)
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Crossroads Reporting: The Intersection of Traditional Media and Citizen Journalism (2008)

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J449 Media Management assignment by Ilona Meagher for Dr. Sabryna Cornish. NIU -- May 2008.

J449 Media Management assignment by Ilona Meagher for Dr. Sabryna Cornish. NIU -- May 2008.

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Crossroads Reporting: The Intersection of Traditional Media and Citizen Journalism (2008) Crossroads Reporting: The Intersection of Traditional Media and Citizen Journalism (2008) Document Transcript

  • Meagher 1 Crossroads Reporting: The Intersection of Traditional Media and Citizen Journalism Ilona Meagher Northern Illinois University May 1, 2008
  • Meagher 2 Introduction Repeated polls show that Americans – on all sides of the political spectrum – are unhappy with the job the news media industry is doing in covering issues they care about. Has this unease been a major catalyst in the increase of citizen journalism or have citizens flocked to blogging simply out of desire? Or is it perhaps because they simply can, that the technology needed to communicate with a mass audience is at last easily within their reach and budget? This paper attempts to find (if one exists) a quantifiable correlation between rising newsroom staff cuts, consumer distrust/disgust with the quality of news production, and the rise of citizen journalism. In order to seek out such a connection, research data will include: 1) a literature review of related journal articles, conference papers, books and news reports; 2) a table collecting some of today’s more notable newsroom layoff numbers and figures; and 3) the results of a questionnaire sent to a sample of citizen journalists and traditional media professionals, including past attendees of last year’s National Conference for Media Reform and the Journalism That Matters conference series organized by the Media Giraffe Project, a non-partisan journalism program at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst. Literature Review The news reporting industry continues to evolve and change dramatically as we barrel through the 21st Century. While so much of past news business paradigms are being questioned and challenged at every turn these days, one constant remains: Newspapers (print and online versions) are still king of the news value chain heap – and for good reason. We would not want to seriously ponder what life in a democracy would look like without them. Where would we go
  • Meagher 3 for substantive, sustained information on issues of the greatest significance to us? Certainly, we could survive without cable television’s 24–hour news channels that increasingly churn out quick-as-a-beat but trivial coverage of local house fires and police chases, shark attacks and celebrity gossip while forgoing hard-hitting and sustained investigations into the “basic bread and butter issues” that studies have repeatedly shown are of top concern to Americans (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008). While radio offers us the greatest service during certain times of crisis (think chemical spills that require quick evacuation or breaking weather alerts and emergency instructions preceding and following a hurricane or other natural disaster), generally they add more entertainment than original probing content to the news mix. How would we oversee our federal, state and community government and private institutions, which require long-term comprehensive attention for successful stewardship, if not for the work done by investigative reporters employed at traditional news organizations? But it’s not necessarily the physical newsprint produced by their efforts that matters most to us here, but rather the act of journalism itself – with its resulting enlightenment of the masses, a vital element in democracies that rely on an informed citizenry to successfully govern themselves – that is at the heart of its importance in the media landscape. Eric Klinenberg, an associate professor at New York University and author of Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media, explains, “Newspapers provide the core editorial content for radio, television, and Internet news sites, from those produced by major media companies to those made by solitary bloggers” (115). They offer their consumers “greater quantity, diversity, and depth of coverage;” in fact, using one quantitative measure, one can expect to receive between 80,000 and 100,000 words in a large metropolitan daily newspaper vs. the 3,000 to 3,600 words received in the average 30- minute television newscast (124, 118).
  • Meagher 4 But the American public is increasingly becoming restive with its media. A February 2008 WeMedia/Zogby International poll found two-thirds of U.S. media consumers are not satisfied with the job being done by the professional press. About 67 percent felt “traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news;” and, while 70 percent believe “journalism is important to the quality of life in their communities,” 64 percent say they are “dissatisfied with [its] quality.” Additionally, 87 percent of respondents felt “professional journalism has a vital role to play in journalism's future,” but consumers no longer rely solely on the mainstream press for their information: 77 percent felt citizen journalists and 59 percent believed bloggers are doing “significant” work, important to the future of journalism (Zogby International, 2008). The March 2008 Annual Report on American Journalism by the Project for Excellence in Journalism exhaustively examined U.S. print, radio, television and online news media. They found the industry as a whole to be “more troubled” than in 2007, with a steady 20-year uptick in public skepticism of journalists, the companies they work for and even the institution of journalism itself. More and more, citizens see news organizations as “corporations [that] increasingly act like others businesses” often more interested in quantity vs. quality. The public is far from the only group doing the complaining at the state of the industry, however. Those working on the inside are as perplexed as those peering in. Journalists, for example, are growing increasingly frustrated as the public second-guesses its motives; and lower pay, layoffs and rapid-fire technology changes force them to do more with less. The institution of news itself is straining and stressed. Modern newsrooms find themselves dealing with unexpected problems, the largest being how to pay for the media they produce. Most prominently played out in the print world as the drying up of classified advertising income, this “decoupling of news and
  • Meagher 5 advertising,” is the driving force in the reinvention of the paid journalism profession and the mainstream news media business model (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008). The reinvention is perhaps most deeply felt on the human level. Buffeted traditionally- trained newspersons are reeling from shifting job qualifications and descriptions and the rising complexity and demands of positions that require everyone to possess the very latest multimedia production skills. With the convergence of media, today’s employees must also converge and expand their range and load to include research and writing; broadcast radio and TV spot producing; photography, videography and multimedia creation; and packaging it all up for the Internet. Content development has replaced straight journalism. “[C]onvergence journalism inevitably leaves journalists with less time to report, reflect, and produce stories” (Klinenberg, 2007, 129). Knocking at their door, applying even more pressure, are the untrained but able newcomers, once relatively voiceless and powerless consumers of the news, who have taken up what is today called citizen journalism. A definition is in order, as the serious citizen journalism label need not apply to everyone who creates a blog and uploads a few musings or images from their personal photography collection. While legal definitions of citizen journalism have not yet worked their way up to the Supreme Court, lower courts have developed a relevant test for what journalism is. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit stated, “We hold that individuals are journalists when engaged in investigative reporting, gathering news, and have the intent at the beginning of the news-gathering process to disseminate this information to the public” (Titan Sports, Inc. v. Turner Broadcasting, 1998) Therefore, it could be said that a citizen journalist is someone who collects, researches, investigates, analyses, etc. information with the direct intent of disseminating it into the public sphere for the greater good. Intention and follow-up are the key
  • Meagher 6 facets that elevate what one does to more serious and civically valuable journalism. Deliberate intent matters when we consider someone who casually stumbles on a news story (perhaps they happen upon the right place at the right time and take some newsworthy photos on their cell phone). Because they had not intended to go there to find and report on the news story, they would not – at least in the legal sense – be considered a citizen journalist; and, in fact, there’s no denying that serious professional journalists probably wouldn’t view them that way, either. But the rise of gifted and hard-working online writers, and the seriousness of their challenge to those on the professional side, cannot be underestimated. Some of the most valuable work that bloggers do, in addition to acting as aggregators or filters of the swelling information that constitutes our media-saturated age, is in the niche reporting area. As the San Francisco Chronicle cuts its madly popular Book Review pages by half due to “production constraints” (Freeman, 2006), Critical Mass is there to take its place. And while newsrooms cut down their science departments, as the Dallas Morning News, St. Petersburg Times and Raleigh News and Observer (among many others) have, specialty blogs like the appropriately named Science Blog or ScienceBase have descended on the scene to pick up the slack. “Strong science sections used to be commonplace,” reports the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “One study in the 1980’s counted 91 of them. Now the total is about 35 and most of those have been refocused on personal health and fitness [instead of more substantive science reporting].” As science goes, so do other specialty areas, including once-bustling international and regional beats; corporate news owners no longer feel they can afford to commit the personnel for these niche topics. Online writers, on the other hand, have usually chosen to report on their selected subject out of a strong personal interest and it shows. Often, they devote more time to its full exploration than their traditional counterparts have to spare. The result? Citizen journalists
  • Meagher 7 frequently deliver readers a “more detailed and illuminating” final product (Andrews, 2003, 63). Regular reporters no longer have the same luxury. Meanwhile, many established journalists recoil from the “decentralized, nonhierarchical, chaotic, anarchic” (Wall, 2003, 113) communication forms parlayed by the citizen journalist who blends passion with pen, activism with analysis. As these old-school journalists grumble about the lack of professionalism of the citizen journalist who interjects their own personal viewpoint into their writing, they fail to realize that this form of journalism has always had a coveted place in newsprint, for example, in the form of the standing column or the op-ed page. Traditional reporters also find fault with the repurposing of their work, yet their own papers are increasingly doing the very same thing, most notably when they choose to run an Associated Press article over one written in-house. More and more today, just as online writers do, journalists are “processing information” for their audience rather than doing strictly investigative journalism (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008). A more positive way of looking at the newfound cozy relationship forming – out of active desire, simple technological ability and/or sheer democratic necessity – between these two groups whose lot has been cast together is to begin to appreciate each other’s role in the media ecosystem. “Instead of looking at blogging and traditional journalism as rivals for readers’ eyeballs, we should recognize that we’re entering an era in which they complement one another, intersect with each other, play off one another” (Lasica, 2003, 73). The impact of today’s online citizen-powered civic journalism or activism is multiplied by the interaction of “many-to-many rather than one-to one (e.g., telegraph to telephone) or one-to-many (e.g., print, television and radio)” (Gant, 2007, 24-25). This hyperlink reality is transforming the practice of journalism by its incessant nudging of reporters to do better, give more and consider sources outside of the typical government and
  • Meagher 8 corporate halls of power. Bloggers, today’s trailblazers using arguably “the first form native to the Web,” (Blood, 2003, 61), serve as a “corrective mechanism for bad journalism” by acting as an instantaneous pool of fact-checkers (Andews, 2003, 63). Journalists who engage them and let them “finally see how the sausage is made” (Lasica, 2003, 73) will reap rewards personally – and professionally.Working together, they can lift and sift mounds of data in no time at all. In their own right, citizen journalists are doing the heavy lifting of investigative reporting on their own as well, and are finally being recognized for their efforts. Examples of the rise in credibility and impact of bloggers may be seen through their recent journalistic coups. One example: In February 2008, political blogger John Micah Marshall of Talking Points Memo was the first of his tribe to receive the prestigious George Polk Award for Legal Reporting for his coverage of the Bush administration’s attorneys general firing scandal. Marshall’s “tenacious investigative reporting” was cited as a significant factor that eventually led to the resignation of embattled former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (Cohen, 2008). Other glimpses of the sea change in attitude towards the work done by these freelancers: In March 2007, the Capitol Correspondents Association of California credentialed its first blogger to cover its state legislature (Russo, 2007); only two months earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed bloggers in to cover the Scooter Libby trial (Gallagher, 2007). Previously, on March 7, 2005, the first blogger was welcomed at a White House daily briefing (Seelye, 2005). Yet, today is hardly the first time the definition of ‘journalist’ has been tested and refined and redefined; far from it. It was a mere slip of a century ago, in 1908, that the world’s first journalism school opened its doors at the University of Missouri-Columbia. Great debate ensued after its groundbreaking, swaying around questions of the “nature and function of journalism education” generally, and “if it was possible to educate for journalism” specifically (Clark, 1958, v-vi). In
  • Meagher 9 those not-so-distant days, editors and publishers balked at the notion that someone needed to have a pricy pedigree to be a great reporter. Today’s citizen journalists, though some might have cut their teeth as traditional news reporters before tossing in their lot with the Internet’s blogging rabble rousers, are dismantling the notion that a journalism degree or official credential is the only avenue to participating in the activity of journalism. Further push backs on traditional conventions and assumptions continue in every department in the media field as the “center of thinking in journalism” shifts from being walled off from larger society in a distant newsroom somewhere to being within the reach of anyone who owns a computer and a desire to change the world (Gant, 2007, 12). Just as the creation of the printing press in 1448 greatly expanded the ability of the masses of that generation to communicate their ideas with one another, so have our technological advances blasted open the boundaries of information dissemination on an even more commanding (and unruly) level for our generation. This technological evolution has changed the form and fundamental essence of journalism by metamorphosing traditional straight reporting of the facts in inverted pyramid style into more “contextual” and nuanced work using 1) a variety of communication formats or modalities (text, audio, video, graphics, animation), whichever best tells the story; 2) hypermedia linking to related information to increase the reader’s ability to explore the subject; 3) increased audience involvement due to the Internet’s action-orientation; 4) dynamic content in real time; and 5) user customization (Pavlik, 2001, 4-22). Hand-in-hand with all of this great change is a looming “shipwreck” facing legacy media, as characterized by Memphis Commercial Appeal editor Chris Peck, which can be traced to cracks forming in the “keel of the business model that traditionally has kept newsrooms afloat.” Amidst declining profits, newsrooms have been cut by 20-40 percent over the past three years,
  • Meagher 10 leaving the door open for ambitious and energetic non-reporters to fill the empty niches in their wake. Everyone still on board knows it is sink-or-swim time. While now a mounting minority, some remain “frozen in fear,” defensive and non-collaborative, clinging to the one-sided detached form of traditional news reporting many have grown accustomed to. What Peck calls “The New Newsroom,” however, will instead need to empower as well as inform in hopes of strengthening the local community and the broader future of democracy. Today’s newspapers disregard citizen journalists at their own peril (Peck, 2007, 2). So, it is beyond a doubt that citizen journalism and online forms of communication are growing as a result of the Internet’s technological empowerment and the seeming decline in news quality produced by the traditional media. Because of the corrosion, major metropolitan newspapers need to do a better job of engaging these energetic modern clients, searching for ways to best make use of the Internet’s “increased immediacy, information richness, and user control” (Bucy & Affe, 2006, 227). Media organizations are finally learning to embrace the fact that online users are not merely interested in consuming a news article. Instead, the interactive nature of the Internet draws users interested in an item’s “information appeal as well as [its] participatory depth” (230). Information may still be king, but action is today’s online queen. The natural outcome of all of this interactivity is that agenda-setting no longer flows one way, from the top down; today, stories and news and direction bubble up from consumers, too, more aptly described as citizens increasingly interested and capable of having a say in the public sphere or the marketplace of ideas. In fact, the power of the citizen journalist to drive the direction of news coverage shows that their mere use of new media communication is “a mode of civic participation in its own right” (232). This civic journalism – something once practiced by traditional journalists then defined as “a form of journalism in which the press participates
  • Meagher 11 actively in the public life of the geographic, political, and cultural communities it serves” (Pavlik, 2001, 132) – is again renewing awareness of the public service/government watchdog obligations of our traditional news organizations. This may be citizen journalism’s greatest triumph, as our democracy cannot survive long without a strong and determined Fourth Estate. Surveying the Media Landscape - Methodology Any examination into systems which employ and interact with people should require both a review of any hard numbers that can be collected on them, as well as a consideration of the less quantifiable and more theoretical thoughts and emotions of the human participants being researched. Therefore, methodologies used to examine today’s news media landscape for this research paper include both quantitative (table) and qualitative (survey) methods. Shortcomings of this methodology will, firstly, be the realization that it will be incredibly hard to firmly establish the cause and effect relationship of decreasing satisfaction with the news media and the rise of citizen journalism – no matter what method is used to attempt to gauge it. It is thought that the qualitative analysis, the table collecting newsroom layoff figures, will reveal the rapid acceleration of news media change at the same time the ranks of citizen journalists and bloggers are equally mushrooming. This methodology, however, will not bring us any closer to learning if the two are exclusively related to one another (as we already know from the literature review that they are not). It is therefore hoped that the qualitative survey, although flawed itself in many aspects, may at least help to shed some light on the prevailing attitudes and concerns of those who would know best: the professionals and newcomers participating in the range of platforms and experiences that make up today’s dynamic news media industry.
  • Meagher 12 Quantitative Survey – Results As 92 million of us turn to the Internet for news, U.S. print media is in steep decline. In 2006 alone, daily circulation dropped by 3 percent; Sunday’s rate by almost 4 percent. Factoring in the past three years, declines rise to 6.4 percent and 9 percent respectively (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008). On the flip side, more and more citizens are actively picking up the writing and reporting arts utilizing blogs – which, by 2005, BusinessWeek reported in the 9 million range with another 40,000 created every day. By 2006, Technorati, “the recognized authority on what’s going on in the world of weblogs,” claimed there were 50 million of them (Gant, 2007, 25). By the following year, that number had doubled – and that figure didn’t even include blogs created in China (Helmond, 2008). Suffice it to say, while blogging is booming, newsrooms are shrinking. For instance, in 2007, the Project for Excellence in Journalism reported “3,000 newsroom jobs had disappeared since the recent peak in news gathering and editing employment at newspapers at the end of 2000.” While the figure is daunting for anyone wishing to enter that career track, there appears to be a silver lining: Some of those eliminated jobs, estimated at approximately 2,000 by an April 2007 American Society of Newspaper Editors study, may have ultimately been transformed into online news staff positions. Nonetheless, the pressroom bloodletting has been a painful and steady stream in recent years. A sampling of recent cuts: Philadelphia Daily News • > 100 editorial and advertising workers laid off, 2007 Philadelphia Inquirer • 68 non-newsroom positions cut (advertising, circulation, customer service, finance, marketing and systems and a 'very small' # of managers) of 2,400 full-time and 1,500 part-time workers, 2008 (Associated Press, 2008) Contra Costa Times • 107 take buyout offers of 1,100 workers (10%), 2008 Oakland Tribune (Bay Area News Group)
  • Meagher 13 (Associated Press, 2008) Dallas Morning News • 200 newsroom personnel laid off, bought out, or not replaced (approx. remaining newsroom staff: 400) incl. 47% arts and feature staff departures, 2004 to 2006 • 33% wire stories on page one in a two-week 2007 survey • 14.3% drop in circulation in the six months ending March 2007; 6.9 % next-highest circulation drop at a major daily (Newsday) • 19% drop in satisfied readers 2004 to 2006 • 12% drop in Belo total shareholder return in 2006 • $5,000,000 Belo CEO Robert Decherd's total compensation in 2006…50% increase compared to 2005 package (Flournoy & Everbach, 2007) Concord Monitor • 5 newsroom positions ‘let go dark’ of a staff in the 40’s, 2007 (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008) San Jose Mercury News • 380 journalists employed, 2001 • 35 positions eliminated, 2006 • ~60 newsroom positions cut (almost 1-in-4 of total staff of 250), 2007 • 50 jobs reduced through layoffs/buyouts (20 newsroom; 30 from other departments) equaling about 5% of total employees, 2008 • > 50% staff reductions since 1990’s, 2008 (McManus, 2007; Carey, 2008; Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008) San Francisco Chronicle • 220 full-time positions (8.5%) eliminated via buyouts/layoffs, 2001 • Popular Book Review pages slashed 50% due to “production constraints,” 2006 • 35 staff cuts (10 newsroom - reporters, photographers, designers and copy editors – and 15 business office), 2006 • $1 million in losses per week, 2007 • 100 newsroom jobs cut (25% of total staff of 400), including reporters photographers, copy editors and managers, 2007 (Moses, 2001; Freeman, 2006; Kim, 2006; Garofoli, 2007) Boston Globe • 160 jobs eliminated overall, 35 newsroom positions cut, 2005 Telegram & Gazette (Worchester, Mass.) • 125 jobs cut overall, 2007 • 24 newsroom jobs axed (6%), including two Pulitzer-prize winners, 2007 (Boston Business Journal, 2005; Gavin, 2007) New York Times • 1,078 newsroom employees in 1998 • 340 jobs eliminated overall, 45 newsroom position cut, 2005 • ~12 newsroom support staff cuts, 2007 • 100 newsroom cuts of 1,332 (8%), due to weak economy/Internet competition, 2008 (Boston Business Journal, 2005; Associated Press, 2008) Roanoke Times • 27 jobs frozen/eliminated; 21 buyouts of a staff of approx. 450, 2007 (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008)
  • Meagher 14 Baltimore Sun • 45 staff cuts from all departments, 2007 (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2008) Qualitative Survey – Results To better understand those participating in the transformation of the American news media terrain, a stratified sample of reporters, editors, publishers, journalism school educators, and bloggers from the traditional, independent and citizen journalism news fields was surveyed between April 19-29, 2008. In order to reach the target sampling frame, surveys were emailed to past Media Giraffe Project/Journalism That Matters conference alums, National Conference on Media Reform attendees and a small set of ePluribus Media and Daily Kos (the former a citizen journalism collective, the latter a political blog) members. Surveys included the following series of questions: 1. Current age bracket: a. 18-25 b. 26-35 c. 36-45 d. 46-55 e. 56-65 f. 65+ 2. How long have you worked in news media? 3. What news media job title do you currently hold? 4. What former news media job titles/experience have you had? 5. Are you a member of the (select one): a. Traditional news media b. Independent news media c. Citizen journalist news media d. J-School/Academic e. Other: ____________________ 6. Are you currently employed in: a. Print b. Broadcast TV c. Radio d. Internet e. Other: ____________________
  • Meagher 15 7. Do you believe news media is more troubled today than last year? a. Yes b. No c. Don’t know 8. What is the number one challenge or problem facing traditional news media? 9. How has the rise of citizen journalism (as defined in email introduction) this past decade affected the work you do? 10. Which, in your opinion, is the main driver of citizen journalism: a. Need, consumer frustration with traditional news reporting b. Desire, citizens wishing to more actively participate in their world c. Technology, first-ever ability to communicate on a grand scale via the Internet d. Other: _____________________ 11. What is the number one challenge or problem facing citizen-generated media? 12. What future do you wish to see for American news media? Of the 279 surveys dispatched, 24 responses were received for a contact rate of 8.6 percent. Of these replies, one respondent was disqualified lacking current or past media experience; one refused to take the survey; three returned their surveys with a brief comment or helpful link to related information but did not complete the survey itself; and two said they would complete and return the survey before its closing date of April 29, 2008, but missed the deadline. In the end, 17 surveys were successfully returned, making for a cooperation rate of 6 percent. The overall usable survey response rate was about 71 percent. [See attached raw data document and Excel spreadsheet to view Survey Respondent Age Bracket questionnaire answers as submitted by 8 7 respondents.] 6 5 4 7 Question #1 [“Current age bracket:”] 3 5 5 2 1 0 0 0 shows participants to be evenly spread out among 0 18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56-65 65+ the middle three categories into a bell-shaped curve: 1) five fell in the 36-45 year-old age bracket; 2) seven slipped into the 46-55 set; and 3) five came in at 56-65 years-old. There were
  • Meagher 16 no respondents in the two younger categories, 18-25 and 26-35, or in the 65 + year-old age range. Breakdown of Respondent Length of Media In total, our 17 adults had 239.5 cumulative years Empl oyment of employment in the news business in one form or Years Worked in News Media 50 another. Ascending order for Question #2’s [“How long 40 40 30 have you worked in news media?”] data set: 25 28 20 20 22 15 10 10 0,0,1.5,2,3,3,5,10,15,15,20,22,25,25,25,28,40. Average 5 0 0 1.52 3 2 1 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 3 1 1 amount of years an individual surveyed stated they were employed in the media world was 14.08824 years; the median was 15 years; and the mode, 25. Two respondents said they had no experience working in the industry (one was a college professor, the other a public affairs director), and another five with fewer than 5 years of such employment generally counted themselves among the citizen journalist group. Questions #3 [“What news media job title Respondent Employment Based on Media OrganizationFormat do you currently hold?”] and #4 [“What former Print news media job titles/experience have you had?”] 2 2 5 Broadcast TV 0 show that survey respondents represented a healthy Radio 1 Internet cross-section of media professionals and novices: 9 Academia editors and publishers at both print and online news Other media; freelance writers and citizen journalists – both formerly or currently employed in the traditional press as well as free-standing newcomers with very little official journalistic experience – an executive producer and a public affairs director; a copy editor; webmaster;
  • Meagher 17 production manager; a few media analysts and consultants; two J-school college professors and even a still-productive but well-seasoned former corporate executive and news division president with 40 years of media experience under his belt. In addition to this wide range of positions held by respondents in the media field, additional past work experience for the group also includes jobs in sales/marketing/PR departments; as executive producers; bureau chiefs; editorial assistants and feature, freelance and staff writers; reporters, correspondents and columnists; and researchers. Question #5 [“Are you a member of the…(select one)”] asked respondents to identify themselves according to the type of news Respondent-Chosen News organization they are a member of: traditional, Organization Membership 3 5 independent, citizen journalist, journalism 2 2 school/academic, or ‘other.’ Just as consumers are 7 Traditional increasingly multi-tasking and dipping into multiple Independent media formats to get their news, some information Citizen Journalism J-School/Academic producers are also increasingly crossing over to create content and engaging audiences across several platforms. For example, one respondent, a 28-year media professional, selected all options in this category (not including ‘other’). She is currently an executive producer for the Free Voice Media Alliance, an independent news organization; a co-curator of BallotVox.prx.org; a teacher of media studies/production at The European Graduate School; a paid traditional media writer of articles on citizen journalism and occasionally blogs for free as well. Another respondent answered in similar fashion, saying, “I work for a mainline organization, have my own blog, and teach regularly.”
  • Meagher 18 Crossover employment notwithstanding, because this study and paper are meant to gauge current conditions in the newspaper field (print and online versions) vs. broadcast television or radio, the survey sample attempted to target those working in this area; therefore, it’s not surprising that Question #6’s results reveal a higher concentration of respondents employed in these two categories. However, it’s important to note: An attempt was made to pool a mixture of responses from all media business sectors, including academia, in order to have some understanding of the overall general state of American news media as seen by those who currently work in it or are currently teaching its future generators. Perhaps the most interesting response to this particular question was offered by our 40-year media maven, who refused all categories presented, instead filling in the following prescient comment in the ‘other’ field: “Everyone is a journalist. Time to remove the adjectives in front of a good word.” Later, in Question #9, this same respondent fleshed his feelings out further, saying of citizen journalism’s effect on the media landscape, “It has changed the way we look at the world.” Considering his broad and deep breadth of experience and ongoing efforts in the media industry, his suggestions are strong evidence that support the thesis presented in this paper and study. Do you believe news media is more With Question #7 [“Do you believe troubled today than last ye ar? news media is more troubled today than last 15 year?”] we finally arrive at the heart of the Yes 10 survey. As previously noted in this paper, the No 5 Don't Know March 2008 Annual Report on American Journalism by the Project for Excellence in 0 Journalism exhaustively examined U.S. print, radio, television and online news media, finding the industry as a whole to be “more troubled”
  • Meagher 19 than in 2007. Overwhelming, 88 percent of this survey’s respondents (15 out of 17) agreed with that analysis. Two respondents answered by stating that they didn’t know if the industry was more troubled or not. Not surprisingly, they were both from the citizen journalist set, one having only two years of experience as a media freelancer while the other had three. While their answers almost certainly reflect a lack of professional newsroom experience, not wishing to simply take a guess may also reflect the integrity and seriousness with which they approach their journalism. For the purposes of being able to chart Question #8 [“What is the number one challenge or problem facing traditional news media?”], responses were distilled and grouped into the following media management themes, listed in descending order: profit motive/business model/ corporate ownership; #1 challenge/problem facing traditional news media democracy/public service Profit motive/biz model Democracy/public service role erosion; technology 2 Technology adaptation 2 9 adoption/harnessing; 3 Consolidation Declining quality 2 consolidation/loss of Relevance 2 5 Newsroom cuts independent media; 3 3 Loss of public trust Special interest influence newsroom cuts; declining news quality; relevance; loss of public trust/ethical standards; and special interest influence. Overall survey totals for this section are greater than 100 percent due to multiple responses received from participants, one explaining, “It’s hard to identify one problem as they are so numerous,” before listing his top choices. The great concern found throughout the industry regarding economic sustainability is clearly reflected here as ‘profit motive/business model/corporate ownership’ concerns, which clocked in as the number one challenge. One of the older respondents whose family was
  • Meagher 20 involved in publishing wrote this impassioned personal reflection in explaining her selection; “I have been following this story – I guess now we can call it The Disintegration of the Media – all my adult life; as a news consumer, as a news junkie, as a part-time writer; as someone who cares deeply about the business and has watched horrified as papers have consolidated, and cut back and ceased publication – a steady downward spiral. Even more horrifying – the paper that continue[s] to exist grow[s] thinner and thinner in content…” A good share of respondents also shared their concerns for media’s role in our democracy. A 25-year professional media critic and educator explained the prevailing problem as the media’s “failure to fulfill its core mission.” For most surveyed, citizen journalism appears either to be a positive event or a non-issue. One participant, however, answered Question #9 [“How has the rise of citizen journalism this past decade affected the work you do?”] saying that it has become harder because “not allowing bias and fact-checking are often absent in citizen journalism. People don’t distinguish between citizen journalists and professional journalists, so we get blamed for all the mistakes.” Another respondent echoed the same, noting that the advent of citizen journalism has “created a need for expanded programming to educate the public on the differences of [citizen journalism] and [professional journalism].” On the flip side, a 22-year traditional newsroom editor wrote that “setting up a blog is the best thing I have Main driver of citizen journalism done in my career. It has taught me there is 12 a world beyond mainstream media, and that 10 8 if we do things properly, people will come 6 4 to you regardless of the choices and 2 0 distractions.” Need Desire Technology Don't Know
  • Meagher 21 Question #10 [“Which, in your opinion, is the main driver of citizen journalism: a) Need, consumer frustration with traditional news reporting, b) Desire, citizens wishing to more actively participate in their world, c) Technology, first-ever ability to communicate on a grand scale via the Internet, d) Other”] again contained multiple replies from some respondents. Need and technology were chosen as the top drivers of citizen journalism. Question #11 [“What is the number one challenge or problem facing citizen-generated media”?] answers shared some similarities with Question #9. But participants added a few new areas to be wary of, in order of #1 challenge/problem facing citizen-generated importance: labor abuse/non-payment media Labor abuse by for-profit corporation for work Credibility 1 1 1 5 Writing/journalism skills done; credibility; writing/journalism 2 Exposure skills; exposure for work; solid news News judgement 3 4 Media law knowledge judgment; media law/First 4 Media format skills Amendment knowledge; cross- Source access platform media formatting skills; and access to resources and sources. Probably the most unexpected of all answers on the survey, the number one challenge/problem in this section is best described by a respondent with healthy doses of employment and experience in all media formats spanning well over two decades. She explains, “labor abuse by for-profits not paying for people’s work…leads to short lifespans for CJs, and the impossibility of them doing long range (costly) investigative pieces.” Four other participants agreed. Other areas of concern that citizen journalists need to be made aware of include fostering credibility and honing basic writing/journalism skills.
  • Meagher 22 Finally, Question #12 [“What future do you wish to see for American news media?”] allowed those surveyed to share visions and dreams – and even a few nightmare scenarios. One participant described himself as “very, very scared about the news media.” He sees decline in the traditional press spilling over and damaging our democracy; regrettably, he was not alone in his apprehension. Another similar refrain: “If the American news media doesn’t survive then democracy in America won’t either.” In contrast, others were more hopeful that a broader range of voices might join in eventually; that collaboration and greater sharing of skills between public and private segments of society might develop; and that an “authentic recommitment to a sense of mission, Democratic enlightenment, in a turbulent world” can be realized through our efforts. Conclusion This paper attempted to find a quantifiable link between rising newsroom staff cuts, consumer displeasure with the quality of news production, and the rise of citizen journalism. While it’s difficult to directly connect these elements, clearly a symbiotic relationship exists between the phenomena. Citizen journalists have entered the fray in record numbers, not only because the technologically allowed them to or because they had a desire to communicate, but also out of the need to serve – and even save – their democracy. In order to tap into the modern news making current, it was helpful to read and review previous studies, articles, essays and books on this vibrant trend of such civic participation; considering the still-evolving picture, it’s notable to see the scope of material already available for those wishing to delve into the topic of citizen journalism. While it was useful to gather recent news clips that mirror the decline of traditional newsroom staffing levels, the most valuable (and fun) part of this research project has been the chance to survey a cross-section of those actually participating in the business of journalism in all of its forms. Their perceptions fit well with the rest of the research. As the
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  • Meagher 25 Zogby International. (2008, February 27). Zogby Poll: 67% View Traditional Journalism as "Out of Touch". Retrieved March 26, 2008, from Zogby.com: http://www.zogby.com/news/ReadNews.dbm?ID=1454