by David Jones
Question: Are citizen journalists little better than the tiresome individuals who write rambling, often near incomprehensible, letters, to the editors of local newspapers? Discuss.
I am underwhelmed by the arrival of citizen journalists in the Medway Council chamber.
They even have their own row of seats. What next? Tea and biscuits?
The council provided seats for these self-appointed guardians of local democracy earlier this year after a big rumpus when some 200 stroppy members of the public were ejected from the chamber during a debate.
I suppose the council felt it had to do something to demonstrate how open and accountable it is.
But I don’t buy the proposition that “citizen journalists” add another layer of transparency to local democracy. Firstly, the very term “citizen journalist” offends me. They might be citizens, but they are not journalists.
As a journalist who spent some 40 years learning his trade, I find the idea that an amateur equipped with a notebook and/or laptop can somehow provide an accurate report of a meeting which might otherwise be missing from the official records quite laughable.
Most so-called citizen journalists have an axe to grind. Their blogs or tweets will be no more than their own spin-laden version of events. Fair, unbiased and accurate they won’t be. In other words, one of those letters to the editor which used to have me scratching my head and wondering if the author was at the same meeting our reporter attended.
Newspapers will often write a comment column on a council issue, but that will be accompanied, elsewhere in the paper, by a fair, accurate and unbiased report of a council debate on which the comment column is based. Citizen journalists are nothing more than individuals writing a ranting letter to the editor, but updated thanks to technology.
I’m not saying that people’s opinions don’t count, but let’s not elevate so-called citizen journalists to a status they don’t deserve and pretend they’re something they’re not. Anyway, it’s probably just a passing fad. A few hours of listening to banal debates and political point-scoring at a Medway Council meeting – or any council meeting – will be enough to persuade most citizen journalists they’d be better off at home watching EastEnders or Coronation Street.