Andy Dickinson has posted this thought-provoking illustration on his blog. To sum up the illustration: The community feels used. The audience feels ignored, but the journalist? “I got what I needed.” Andy promises more thoughts soon, but the post alone is a great beginning for a conversation.
Maybe the problem isn’t about creating citizen journalists but re-awakening the citizen in journalists? Steve Yelvington has often mused that possibly one the unintended consequences of the professionalisation of journalism is that we’ve become isolated from the communities that we serve. Put succinctly, he said:
Arrogance is the cancer of professional journalism, and we need to stop it.
A few years ago, colleagues asked me why bloggers responded to my interview requests when they had trouble getting a response. The problem was, they were often sending out form e-mail interview requests and treating bloggers, usually ordinary people, as if they were members of government or industry spokespeople. I usually started my search for a blogger through a blog search engine like Technorati. When I found a relevant post, I would quote the post and ask them if they wanted to join a discussion about the topic they had blogged about.
I also use Creative Commons licenced pictures in Guardian blog posts (Attribution licence that allows for commercial use). Unless, I’m really pressed for time, I send the Flickr user a short note and a link. They always thank me for being a good member of the community, and the sometimes even blog about the post. I’ve acted in good faith, and they have reciprocated by flagging up their photo on a Guardian post. We can be good members of both virtual and real world communities, and I think it’s one of the things that can rebuild journalists’ relationship with the people formerly known as the audience. Becoming better citizen journalists might just save professional journalism.