In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, Larry Atkins, who teaches journalism at Temple and Arcadia Universities, warns news outlets to be careful when it comes to using citizen journalists to report on the news.
Atkins is concerned that the rapid increase of citizen journalism will eventually replace the more reliable mainstream reporting.
To demonstrate just how fast this phenomenon has taken off, Atkins cites CNN which is one of the biggest sponsors of the “I-reports” format where citizens submit photos and stories online. CNN received over 6,000 such reports in July alone and in the case of the I-35 bridge collapse in Minnesota photos submitted online comprised a majority of the cable network’s initial coverage of the disaster.
Atkins isn’t totally against this type of reporting as he says that there are some benefits to this type of reporting like dramatic photos and videos that add insight to news events. Yet his skepticism is evidenced by a longer list of drawbacks such as bias, conflicts of interest, and credibility or the possibility of promoting certain agendas.
Actually that sounds a lot like the mainstream media.
Atkins also praises the mainstream media for its fact-checking which he says is largely absent from citizen journalism.
He must have missed the role of citizen journalists in exposing the Bush National Guard memo as fake after CBS’s Dan Rather reported it as the gospel truth. CBS with their vast resources couldn’t figure this out? It couldn’t have been bias or an agenda on Dan Rather’s part since, according to Atkins, that only applies to citizen journalists.
In addition there is s story today that a new research study on errors in the media and the lack of corrections help lay waste to any assertion that the mainstream media does a superior job to citizen journalists in the fact-checking department.
My experience has been the opposite. Citizen journalists often spend far more time and effort checking the facts than the mainstream media as they tend to be more internet savvy and know how to use the vast resources of the web.
What Atkins really fears is that this desire to adapt to a more wired world will leave traditional journalists and teachers like him like a proverbial boat without a paddle..
Don Irvine is the chairman of Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.