From Skepticism to Citizen Journalism via a Tea Party

I was involved in a discussion on friend’s blog, and found that my comment was too large to post as a comment. So I am moving it over here. The discussion started with a post about a news article on a Department of Defense exam that identifies protests as terrorism for the purposes of their employees, and the conflict with the First Amendment right to peaceable assembly.

The discussion there, when filtered through the convoluted network in my brain, evolved into an introduction to citizen journalism and its value. Separately, I’ve been pondering the evolution of citizen journalism and the challenges to traditional journalism as being parallel to the challenges to traditional librarianship. I hope I find time to talk about that in a future blogpost, but for today, let me offer the following, just a trifle out of context.

Skepticism is a gift the individual brings to the community, one way to get the outside perspective incorporated into the decisionmaking and thought processes of the group. I read some of the early articles of David Horrobin that evolved into his book The Madness of Adam and Eve: How Schizophrenia Shaped Humanity. He defined an essential role for schizophrenia that is in my mind related to skepticism — an essential quality for the survival of the species in that is contributes to our species ability to balance between rewarding behaviors and strategies that encourage survival (herd mentality) and allowing the species to develop new behaviors in response to novelty in the environment (adapting to change). Now I am not saying that skepticism is related to schizophrenia, rather that both make it possible to step outside the larger group or society and see things you can’t see if you follow the common or popular view without question. So irrespective of government or the press, I see skepticism as a quality that should be highly valued and respected.

I could go on for a long time about Horrobin, schizophrenia, skepticism, etcetera, but let me try to navigate back to the topic at hand. OK, perhaps navigate in a wiggly sense. 🙂

Yesterday I spent much of the day with a friend who is a self defined right wing extremist at a Tea Party government protest.
July 4th 2009: Northville Tea Party July 4th 2009: Northville Tea Party

I am a self defined moderate (which to him pretty much means bleeding heart liberal or leftwing nutjob). I work in a community that is largely leftist – academia. I’ve found when you spend time in a community where most people tend to agree that it is harder to find balanced information and develop a truly informed opinion. Being a moderate also tends to mean being unpopular with either side, and not really having a community of your own, since moderates will by definition have different reasons for reaching the same decision. I also found that the closer you come to a well-balanced view the harder it is to make a choice, as both options will have major drawbacks and you are choosing the least awful of the worrisome choices available.

I like to spend time with people with a variety of perceptions, knowledge and opinions as part of gathering information and finding a balanced point of view. As part of seeking intellectual balance on controversial issues, I tend to drive everyone around me nuts sometimes by arguing whatever is the opposite point of view from what they hold. I find this a great learning experience for me, but many people seem more comfortable with folks who just agree with them. Oops. The other thing I do is to find value as well as concern in BOTH sides. There are always (so far) ideas and opinions that I respect and agree with on both sides of whatever controversy is being discussed. I believe it is important to value these common elements.

Yesterday, in listening to the speakers, looking at the signs, and hearing conversations around me, I noticed great passion, good intentions, a sense of pain and betrayal, a strong desire to do good for others, a commitment to working for the common good (a lot of spice), some alarming information and concerns that were new to me, some old chestnuts that had already been beaten to death ages ago, and a general flour of rhetoric (preaching to the choir) that glued the cake all together. If I had been at a leftwing event it would have been similar, but perhaps harder to see (since my personal experience tends to be more in common with that community and their views) unless one has experience with both views and communities.

I mentioned this blogpost to a few people there. The event started out reminding my of the Independence Day picnics from when I was a kid. Food, community, music, laughter, conversation, and lots of red, white and blue. A passion for our country. I found it utterly ironic (and a bit frightening) that because the party was called a Tea Party protest that the Department of Defense would consider all the kids and old folks sitting in their lawn chairs shooting off their mouths and patting each other on the back to be terrorists.

I learned to mistrust the US popular press several years ago. A friend of mine is positioned high enough in the military to have a sense of the big picture and low enough to have a sense of what is going on in the lives of the “grunts”. It is an interesting point of view, and I have found little tidbits that cropped up in conversation to sometimes be wildly different from what was reported by our media. I learned to use the online resources and search engines available to access news media reports from around the world, and have also found that the richest information often comes not from the big name feeds but from the small town local press where the events unfolded. It is a natural extension of this to take a serious look at citizen journalism, the shift toward reporting major events and news from the viewpoint of the common person.

I am fascinated by the evolution of journalism (learning a lot from following folks like Jay Rosen) and citizen journalism — man on the street reporting through not just blogs but aggregator news sites not from the commercial press, like NowPublic, iReport and the newest interesting experiment – NewAssignment. NowPublic is one of the originals and most authentic. iReport is affiliated with CNN. There have been reports of news pushed from iReport to CNN without adequate review. I worry that iReport attracts people reporting simply because they want attention which can potentially compromise the content. On the flip side, it is a great example of crowdsourcing! NewAssignment is an effort to evolve hybrid journalism – real professionals using social media to inform their research and writing.

The hybrid journalism idea is very exciting. Citizen journalism has its own issues. Basically it lacks quality oversight and the big picture view. The best illustration I’ve seen of this was blogged last year with the Toronto explosion.

Propane depot explosions expose shortcomings in breaking news coverage by newspapers living in a Web 2.0 world:

What the propane depot explosions taught me about covering breaking news on the web:

I guess, in brief, I share the skepticism expressed at Angular Unconformities to some extent, and I could have said that a whole lot faster. Except then I would not have had a reason to say that NowPublic used my pictures in their reporting of yesterday’s Tea Parties. 😉 Citizen journalism – is your voice being heard?


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