Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The tricky question of defining "citizen journalism" -- the Peoria example




/ ehopkins7@prodigy.net

Citizen Journalism: Who Qualifies?

By Meghan Fisher
WHOI, Channel 19 (ABC), Peoria Ill.

Posted: Monday, July 30, 2007 at 6:13 PM

Every Monday, you see bloggers come on our newscast to talk about hot topics in the area. Some of the issues are opinions, some are fact-oriented, and some have made terrific news stories that have brought change to central Illinois. It's those stories that make some bloggers seem more like citizen journalists. Recently, the definition of blogger, journalist and media in general is becoming a hot topic.

Elaine Hopkins runs a blog called peoriastory.com. She is a retired reporter from the Journal Star and was recently kicked out of a juvenile courtroom because the judge ruled she was not a member of the media. Law states only news media and the crime victim are allowed in court. We asked some local bloggers to submit their opinions on the topic. Here are some responses we received.

Blogger Response: "If there's a question about access to the courts, the judge should air and the side of caution and allow access. The potential for harm comes not from allowing access, but from denying it. The primary beneficiaries of secrecy are not the children caught in the system, but the judges, lawyers and government employees who can hide their activities from public view."

Blogger Response: "Regarding bloggers and journalists: The fundamental problem is that the term "blogger" is too vague. It's like saying "printer" or "broadcaster." It describes the medium, not the content. So, for instance, on radio you have disc jockeys on one station and news reporters on another. On TV, you have actors on in the afternoon and journalists on in the early evening. You wouldn't give media credentials to *everyone* who blogs anymore than you'd give credentials to *everyone* on TV and radio. It's not the medium that's important, it's the content of your particu l ar show, publication, or blog site.

In general, I think that if you are running a news blog -- an online news magazine, if you will -- and wanting to report on an event, then you should be treated as a reporter. Since bloggers don't have a company behind them, but are self-published, it necessarily follows that this will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. The CIA recently changed its definition of news media to this (emphasis mine):



Representative of the News Media refers to any person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. The term ``news'' means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. Examples of news media entities include television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large, and publishers of periodicals (but only in those instances when they can qualify as disseminators of ``news'') who make their products available for purchase or subscription by the general public. These examples are not intended to be all-inclusive. Moreover, as traditional methods of news delivery evolve (e.g., electronic dissemination of newspapers through telecommunications services), such alternative media would be included in this category.

I think news blogs would fit into this category, although it remains to be seen how the CIA applies this rule in practice. ABC News says the NSA specifically mentions blogs in its revised policies."

See: http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/07/spy-agency-oks-.html

Blogger Response: "Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay were not members of established newspapers when they printed the Federalist Papers arguing in favor of the ratification of the Constitution. Our national Constitution does not define what "the press" is. Journalists ARE citizens, and many of our Founding Fathers were what we would today call "citizen journalists" -- maverick writers working outside the established press. There is no reason bloggers can't be bound by the same contempt of court threats as traditional journalists if bloggers want to print the name of a minor in a closed juvenile court proceeding. It is not the business of the government -- legislature, executive, OR court -- to define who is and is not a journalist, nor to restrict individuals from exercising Constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms on the basis of what description the world appends to their occupation. I never noticed words like "blogger" or "newspaperman" or "journalist" i!
n the First Amendment. It is disappointing to see a judge sworn to protect and uphold both our federal and state Constitutions and charged with interpreting and defending them in court instead choosing to undermine them and to undermine the rights of the citizens of the state of Illinois and of these United States."

HOI 19 News got in touch with David Ardia. He is currently the head of the Citizen Media Law project at Harvard Law School. He read our story and looked at Hopkins' blog. He says her site is very high quality and seems to be exhibiting all the practices of journalism that any established media organization does, but she just doesn't have an organization attached to her name. He says media is going through a transition and although this is the first case he's heard of nationally like Hopkins', he's sure it will open the door to some much needed discussion among the courts. Ardia added in this case, he believes there was a very narrow-minded view of what journalism is. He believes there is room for figuring out a way for bloggers to obtain credentials, but says the devil's in the details! If the focus is the type of work they do, frequency of publication, procedures in place for verification etc., the process may work. Ardia says, "the best approach is to have the media or!
ganizations in Illinois sit down with judges and bring in citizen journalists to decide what's best for the citizens in Illinois, the juvenile court system and the juveniles themselves." He adds that it is in the public's best interest to have more voices cover news stories, so this is a conversation that needs to happen.

The issue Chief Judge Richard Grawey of the 10th judicial court reminds us of is the fact that bloggers don't have editors, bosses, or credentials, so they could potentially write anything they wanted. Even some bloggers agree with him, saying bloggers are not journalists. Blogger Response: One blogger writes, "Blogging is, and was pioneered by self expression of ones own beliefs, thoughts and opinions," and goes on to say, "Journalist's are supposed to be unbiased and report the facts as a matter of record, not how "they" interpret the facts. Bloggers write about what is important to them as bloggers, thus they can say anything they want."


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