One way to shake-up the often-formulaic news we see in mainstream media is to start using more and different types of news sources. I’m not just referring to youtube videos and viewer photos, but exploring alternative ways of storytelling to accommodate a wider variety of voices.
As I’ve mentioned before, CBC used members of its audience community as reporters during the Toronto G-20 protests. That type of coverage sparked this comment from one journalist,
“For traditional journalists everyone says this is awful, but on the other hand the information is getting out there more quickly. It’s getting out in different forms. So is that good or bad? As a journalist it’s bad because arrogantly you would say they’re [citizen bloggers] not as smart about the stories; they don’t care about sharing two sides. None of that I think is good for journalism. But for information to people it’s gotta help, because there are so many different sources”.
I’ve repeatedly heard this concern over the validity of using citizens as news sources, as well as sincere bewilderment over how to incorporate such sources into traditional newscasts.
If alternative sources are used, the story often doesn’t make it off a network’s website. One producer told me about a project where “15 high school students from different areas with different voices” were given cameras and the opportunity to do a story about their lives. The reports weren’t aired on the television newscast because they weren’t “news”, but features.
These stories may not have been told in a traditional news manner; they may not have covered topics traditionally considered newsworthy, but these students were sources of information on what was happening in their communities, of what they felt was important in their lives. I would love to see that kind of story in a newscast—mostly because I haven’t seen one just like it a thousand times before.
The issue of validity when it comes to using ordinary people as a source of news was echoed by a reporter who told me about consistently getting slammed for not using experts: “I would be criticized as these stories did not carry enough weight. They were feature or light stories. I’d say, ‘Why’? They’d say, ‘You’ve just got people in them’”.
Let’s face it—a lot of sources that are considered acceptable in professional newsrooms aren’t exactly ideal. As another journalist pointed out many stories are generated by “PR people, politicians and what-not—manufactured news”. Used in a balanced manner, different types of news sources don’t impinge on journalistic standards—they might even improve them.
At the college where I teach we’re actively trying to include more sources and voices in our undergrad newscast by soliciting the school community for input. Our ad—that’s in the school paper, and will be hanging-up around campus, tweeted, and broadcast—says, “We want to hear from you”.
It’s not an original statement. You’ve probably heard a version of it on almost every broadcast you’ve recently watched. But until more mainstream media make a commitment to truly listen—and shake-up the language and grammar of news we’ve all come to expect—we’ll keep hearing the same old stories.