Myth #26: We are all journalists and news creators now.
Michael S. Daubs
Myth: The Internet will enable citizens to contribute user-generated content and co-create the news and avoid the gatekeeping mechanisms of traditional news organizations, thus democratizing journalism.
Busted: In the late 1990s, user-led citizen journalism sites such as Indymedia emerged that provided the opportunity for people to “become the media” by creating and sharing user-generated content (UGC) in the form of citizen journalism. Blogging and social networking sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter followed, as did citizen journalism portals from news organizations such as CNN’s iReport. Many credited these platforms with democratizing journalism. (#28) Such views echo broader claims that digital media support a “democratic urge to allow more people to create and circulate media” (Jenkins 2006).
Arguments that UGC is inherently democratizing, however, ignore the complex relationships between the users and traditional journalistic institutions. The ability to create and share information does not necessarily guarantee access to an audience. Furthermore, many citizen journalists lack the training, fact-checking, editorial review, and motives of traditional journalists. Some citizen journalists, for example, create UGC that is more in line with opinion and commentary than explicitly political in nature. While Sharon Docter (2010) notes that arguments against classifying bloggers as journalists rarely claim that “bloggers do not contribute to the public sphere, as professional journalists do”, these factors have led to ongoing debates about whether citizen journalists are subject to the same special protections afforded to traditional journalists such as shield laws that exempt journalists from having to disclose confidential sources and unpublished notes.
In short, there are many reasons to question the myth that the Internet has democratized journalism. Moreover, John T. Caldwell (2004) notes that television has “proven resilient in adapting to a series of fundamental economic, technological, and cultural changes.” Traditional news organizations have, for example, increasingly incorporated UGC in their reporting rather than being threatened by it. Furthermore, some citizen journalists, who aspire to be professional journalists in the future, perform a significant amount of labour in the hopes of improving their skills and future job projects. Journalistic institutions readily capitalize on this unpaid labour, sometimes referred to as “hope labour” (Kuehn and Corrigan 2013) or “aspirational labour” (Duffy 2017), which allows traditional journalistic institutions to save money, act as an authority over UGC, and maintain their “social power to frame the issues” (Andrejevic 2004).
Truth: Because traditional journalistic institutions maintain a privileged position to select and contextualize the contributions of users, Internet-distributed user-generated content in the form of citizen journalism often results in reaffirming the authority, power and centrality of these organizations and their journalists rather than democratizing journalism.
Source: Michael S. Daubs, The Social News Network: The Appropriation of Community Labour in CNN’s iReport, The Political Economy of Communication, 3.2 (2015), 55-73; Sara Platon and Mark Deuze, Indymedia Journalism: A Radical Way of Making, Selecting and Sharing News?, Journalism 4.3 (2003), 336-55.