Before enrolling in the program, started out as a citizen journalist. I got my first gig as a contributor to Terra Informa, an environmental news program at CJSR 88.5 FM, theUniversity of Alberta’s campus radio station. I learned to interview, edit audio, structure stories, and broadcast, all without any academic training.
(My first ever interview as a citizen journalist – originally broadcast in September 2012)
Training is the biggest factor that sets citizen and professional journalists apart. That and the pay (the pros usually work for media companies, and we were all volunteers at Terra Informa). But none of this is to say that citizen journalists aren’t useful to the public or helpful in the democratic process.
People need accurate and reliable information to make informed decisions at the polls. And as much as we’d like to think that professional journalism serves that role, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the industry is in crisis right now. With declining ad revenues, media organizations and conglomerates are laying off reporters left and right to cut costs, diluting the quality and reducing quantity of public interest information.
But at the same time, the means to publishing have been democratized. Even without a radio station at your disposal, anybody with a computer and an internet connection can act as a journalist in the information age. You can live-tweet public events and breaking news using Twitter from your phone. Add a microphone and you’ve got the means to podcast. Put that HD camera to use and now you’re a multimedia reporter. Slap it all together on a website or blog and you’ve got everything you need to start your own news site.
Today more that ever, people have incredible access to information, and the means to produce it as well. It may not all be “professional” journalism, but there are no regulations on who can be a journalist. In Canada, our constitutionally protected freedoms of expression and the press allow anybody to share their stories with the world. In The Elements of Journalism, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write that “the two sides, citizen and professional journalists, are not in competition. They must work in combination. the new citizen sentinel will not replicate the work of the professional journalist, or even displace it, but rather inform, interact with, and elevate it (p.289).
Just look at Edmonton’s own Dave Cournoyer, a local politics-watcher and writer. Using his own website, Dave reports stories that draw upon and fill-out news reports from professional outlets as well as his own; and they call on him in kind, as a knowledgable source to offer commentary on their own news stories. Together, citizen and professional journalists can work hand in hand to create a richer media landscape.