AR; A broad concept of citizen journalism

Although I’ve been using the term “social news website” ever since the beginning of my research, I haven’t so far come across anyone else who would do the same. Until now, that is; as I just read Luke Goode‘s article.

The piece argues for a broad concept of citizen journalism. In Goode’s interpretation, the term should not be used exclusively to denote activists citizen journalists who create original content on their own; rather, it should encompass all the secondary treatment of previously published material too. All the commenting, tagging, sharing, repackaging and in any other way reflecting on previously published material adds, or at least has the potential to add, value to the news.

[…] the stories that professional news outlets break and frame will now routinely serve as raw material rather than finished product – they become just one more link in the news production chain which, in fact, may often begin with the ‘wholesale’ news (and PR) agencies […] rather than the ‘retail’ news outlets with which communications scholarship primarily engages.

It is with this broad concept of citizen journalism in mind that social news sites should be researched – argues Goode (with which I wholeheartedly agree). He then proceeds to illustrate social news sites by Digg, GNN and Newsvine, and to set a research agenda, drawing attention to how seemingly small and superficial factors (e.g. the usability or other attributes of user interfaces) play a great role in making or breaking a social news website. (Good point again.)

There are two small points I’d like to make in connection with this article.

First – this one is commonsensical, and implied in the article too, but I think it’s important to be stressed. Concerning the distinction between news production and secondary news treatment- as I said, I agree with the idea that the latter is as important as the former, but the important thing is that the secondary comments depend, in a very practical way, on primary news production. (well, d’uh, I hear from the rows in the back, and they are right.) Which is why established media organs are so important: they are the ones that have the resources (financial and other) to produce news on a regular and dependable manner, from faraway places and in good quality. Even if tools of their trade are widely available now to anyone, their skills, resources and motivation are not. So from this point of view, it does make sense, I believe, not to conflate primary news production and its secondary treatment and chanelling.

Second, about the potential democratic implications of social news sites. This claim is speculative, so it might be that empirically it only can be refuted. And still; this is a claim about the business models behind social news sites. As I wrote in other places too, I believe that social news sites are better fit for presenting a more even or less biased agenda than any given individual media organ. They (at least, some of them) are only interested in attracting the largest possible number of visitors. So if they can show to users that their agenda really does depend only them, and that there are no external ideological constraints on what gets published, then that might incite even those to use the site who are opposing what seems to be the majority opinion on the site in any given moment.

(Consider social news sites in opposition to blogs: if you don’t agree with what’s said on a blog, there might not be too much you can do. A blog owner and its comments are not in an equal communicative position. But the same does not apply to social news sites: if you don’t like what you see there, just publish (or re-publish) contradicting articles, make a compelling argument about them, and you stand a much better chance of your article getting the same amount of attention as the one you replied to.)

Goode, Luke (2009): “Social news, citizen journalism and democracy”, in New Media & Society, Vol. 11 (8), 1287-1305.

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