Pew Study Says Americans More Interested in DIY Journalism, but Still Serves Warning

This story on Cyberjournalist reports that Americans became more interested in amateur reporting as a result of relying on such accounts, primarily found on the Internet, during the events of Sept. 11.

” Most notable, the study said, were the widespread first-person accounts, which most frequently appeared on personal Web logs, but also appeared on a wide variety of Web sites — even though that usually don’t publish news.”

However, the journalism profession can’t let the unwashed get by without some caveats, as the study warns:

“Many of these accounts do not follow the canons in fact-checking, seeking out alternative or opposing views, or attempted impartiality. They are necessarily more socially constructed, and read more like rumors, with particular aspects of the story being embellished while others are left aside…. This democratization of journalistic sources, while in no way rivaling the contacts of established journalists, provided new opportunities for individuals to explore the space of news and information more extensively. It also provided new sources of error, rumor, and propaganda.”

Wait, are they sure they’re not talking about the mainstream press? But let’s deconstruct that last sentence a bit. It says that these democratized journalistic sources “provided new sources of error, rumor, and propaganda.” The way that’s written it’s clearly intended to inject some doubt into the reliability of non-professional journalism, provoking the sense that it’s definitely more error, rumor and propaganda prone. But, that’s not actually what it says. It just says that non-pro journos are a “new source” of rumor, error and propaganda. What’s the old source? Why, it’s the existing mainstream professional press, doncha know.

Seriously, I’m well aware of the problems that can be associated with uncorroborated, untested and unedited journalistic content. Clearly, one needs to be critical about supposed truths when reported by people and sources that you’re not familiar with. But this has nothing to do with amateurs — it has to do with recognition, reputation and, most importantly, trust.

If you invoke your critical facilities at all you learn who to trust, whether they be friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, newspapers or websites. If you read this blog and find that it doesn’t speak truth, I’m going to guess you won’t visit much, and certainly won’t consider highly too much of what’s written here. That’s what I think about a lot of mainstream news outlets.

The American press has been famously responsible for inneundo, uncorroborated rumor and error. Sometimes it propagates, but a lot of the time someone else smells the bullshit and says, “hey, that’s bullshit!” The difference lies more in style than in reality. The amateur often reports rumor straight, without attribution of source, or in true rumor fashion, such as “I heard that…” or “according to some guy who works for GE….” The professional reporter shrouds it differently, “An unnamed pentagon source says….” or “according to reports coming out of Afghanistan….” Which is better? Which is more corroborated? Neither. The pro has just been trained to present it as, “well I heard it, I don’t know it for fact, so I’ll just report that I heard it.” But because we’re so well trained as a public to believe official sources (or official-sounding sources), even if we don’t even know who they are, we swallow the “unnamed pentagon source” better than heresay reported by an amateur. But neither is better, or truer.

The simple fact remains that the experiences, stories and truths of most people’s daily lives are filtered out of the mainstream media. The only way that they will be reported, shared, heard and understood is when people seize control of the means of media production themselves. It’s useless to get both a democrat and a republican to comment on police brutality in poor neighborhoods, and there are more than two sides. They aren’t simple to report, and so it’s better to have lots, hundreds or thousands of people reporting on this news rather than having one or two pros attempt to get the “whole story” and all of its multiple facets crammed into 750 words, 3 minutes of video, or 30 seconds of headline news.

Why do I need a reporter to report what I have to say when I can speak for myself? My goal is for that to be true for everyone.

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