One of the more heated debates surrounding citizen journalism is that professional journalists are becoming irrelevant—as necessary as rotary phones and the plastic adapter you put in the middle of a 45-record.
When I put that idea to a person whose job centres on working with citizen journalists she had this to to say:
“I laugh at that; I think it’s silly. A journalist’s role is evolving; I think it’s no more being high on the mountain delivering the content as I see it. I think that journalists have to be more collaborative and accept that there are tons of people producing content. We should be curating; there’s a big need for curation”.
I couldn’t agree more. There may be a zillion stories on the Internet, but how many people actually read a fraction of them, and, even if they do, how many have the time to confirm the sources?
A journalist who’s researched the online world extensively told me:
“The vast majority of people work 9 to 5 and take care of the kids afterwards and they don’t have time [to check sources]. There’s more information and misinformation. You can cocoon yourself inside the world of that misinformation, you don’t ever have to step outside of it and that’s a dangerous thing as well”.
While researching a paper on the recent controversy over HPV vaccines in the Halton Catholic School Board, when I searched “HPV deaths” on the Internet I kept coming across articles referencing a Judicial Watch special report.
So I went and found it. What it actually says is:
“…as many as 18 young girls and women have died after receiving the vaccine. While the deaths are quite possibly not linked to the vaccine, there is a report of a perfectly healthy 17-year-old girl dying suddenly and alone, two days after receiving her third dose of the vaccine” (p. 15).
No confirmed links—and what does a girl dying alone have to do with anyone’s safety? I can think of three reasons this inflammatory information was misused again and again:
People are cutting and pasting information without going to the original source; if they are going to the original source they aren’t reading all 24 pages; or, worst of all, they are conveniently omitting the fact there is no proven link to prove an ideological point.
Ideally, none of those things would happen if a professional journalist was covering the story. Another cross-platform contributor told me:
“At CBC we have documents that outline our commitment to Canadians. A blog doesn’t have to do that; a youtube channel doesn’t have to do that. They can do whatever they want. We do have a set of guidelines. And I just have yet to see any site that comes close to that.”
So that’s one reason we need journalists—to cut through the crap. The other is to amplify the independently created, well-researched and factual stories that are on the web:
“Debates can start and stories can start in the blogosphere for example, but they don’t really receive traction until the mainstream media fuels them or picks them up. Having said that, obviously there are way more stories that get broken on non-traditional media that now get picked up by mainstream media and that’s a good thing.”
Yes, that is a good thing—and not the Martha Stewart kind of good thing—but a good thing that leads to shared information, diversity, and transparency. Citizens need journalists, and journalists need citizens. It’s not a matter of choice; it’s a matter of collaboration.
 For some reason I can’t link directly to the pdf, so when you get to the special report page of the Judicial Watch site, just choose the Judicial Watch Special Report: Examining the FDA’s HPV Vaccine Records – June 30, 2008