Behind the term ‘citizen journalist’

Bloggers can provide interesting commentary on local news, but can their reach extend further?

  • James Howard, Uptown magazine columnist and author of the blog Slurpees and Murder, believes many bloggers wrongly use the term “citizen journalist.” – Cindy Titus

Manitoba has a rich blogging community devoted to covering, critiquing and commenting on local issues. But is it fair to categorize news bloggers as citizen journalists?

The anonymous author of The Black Rod, perhaps the most infamous news blog in Manitoba, contends that “people that actually care about the issues” characterize online citizen journalism in Winnipeg.

“A tiny handful of bloggers, specializing in civic issues, have put down roots in Manitoba,” the Black Rod writer said by e-mail. “These bloggers cover Manitoba and do it a thousand times better than the mainstream reporters. They have become ‘players’ in the news scene.”

Graham Hnatiuk, author of the local blog Progressive Winnipeg, believes the city’s news blogging community offers an unfiltered approach to local happenings.

“In mainstream publications, articles and editorials are censored by editors,” Hnatiuk said. “Blogs are unfiltered. People can read them and say, ‘This is exactly what’s happening.’”

John White, a deputy editor at the Winnipeg Free Press, disagrees with the censorship allegations made by Hnatiuk and other bloggers.

“To my knowledge, there is no push to focus on a specific agenda,” said White.

White attributes the growth in news blogging to the public’s lack of access to information about how journalism really works.

“Blog critiques highlight the need for further access to the mainstream media community. In short, people don’t understand the process,” said White. “You can’t blame them for assuming that we’re doing something wrong.”

White hopes to correct this gap with a new radio show on KICK FM that discusses the journalistic process at the Free Press.

“The radio show (goes) behind the scenes to let people know exactly how stories are composed,” he said.

Citizen journalist’ is one of those things people say so they don’t have to use the term, blogger, which conjures up the unwanted image of a guy sitting in his basement with a computer.

James Hope Howard, blogger

Good way to be heard

James Hope Howard, author of the blog Slurpees and Murder, says that Winnipeg blogging is a good way to have your voice heard.

“If you write about or criticize someone in Winnipeg, you’re pretty much guaranteed they will hear about it,” said Howard. “However, in this town of glacial fast process, you can write about making changes and improving things but nothing will ever happen.”

Howard argues that the term “citizen journalist” is used incorrectly by many bloggers.

“‘Journalist’ implies that someone is hunting down stories,” he said. “Most Winnipeg bloggers feed off mainstream articles for their content. ‘Citizen journalist’ is one of those things people say so they don’t have to use the term, blogger, which conjures up the unwanted image of a guy sitting in his basement with a computer.”

Geoff Kirbyson, a reporter for the Free Press, agrees.

“Journalists went to school and studied the craft. Bloggers are not trained,” he said. “They don’t do the work or attend events. They just comment on what they’ve read. If they started showing up at things and doing the work, then I wouldn’t have a problem with it. A lot of blogging is second-hand reporting.”

However, the author of The Black Rod says the blog does report on first-hand information. And whether or not there’s money to be made by blogging, The Black Rod will continue.

“The detriment of blogging is that you spend hours researching and writing without getting a penny,” the anonymous author said. “(But) you do it for the love of what you do.”

Published in Volume 64, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 27, 2010)

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