Changing Linguistic Gears

Steve Outing asks:

"Do you think the terms "citizen journalism" or "citizen media" are the ones we should be using? I’ve been writing lots
about the concepts of citizen journalism, and about the activities of
pioneers in the field. But I can’t say that I’m enamored yet with the
term we seem to have settled on, even though I’ve used it often in my
own writing."

He wonders if J.D. Lasica’s term of "personal media" would work instead, adding  "I like that term a little better than citizen journalism/media — though perhaps it’s not as descriptive."

I wrote about this here a few weeks ago  when Bayosphere debuted

I’ve grown increasingly disconcerted by use of the term "citizen journalism," which seems to suggest that professional journalists — those of us who do it for a living —  aren’t citizens. Grassroots media works in some instances, as do a few other terms (including we-media, as in Dan’s book "We The Media" ), but I’m going with "p2p media" or "peer media" for now.

I’m working on a project now for OJR and we will not be using "citizen journalism" as a term although, of course, we’ll use it in quotes or in self-descriptions.  Robert Niles expressed his frustration with the same issue in a recent OJR roundtable, casting his vote for "Dan Gillmor’s term, grassroots journalism. Why? Process of elimination, mostly." He explains:

journalism implies that traditional journalists are somehow not
citizens. Phooey. Professional journalists collectively care more about
the quality and justice of their countries and communities than folks
in many, if not most, other industries. ‘Participatory’ journalism makes me think of George Plimpton suiting up for the Detroit Lions.
‘Reader-driven’ journalism ignores the fact that journalism’s always been driven by readers. Edit a paper that readers don’t read and your publisher soon
will ask you to find a new job.
‘Community’ journalism brings
with it the baggage of what is also called “civic journalism,” an
endeavor that has its passionate supporters, but that is not the same
things as what we are discussing here. So why conflate the two?
leaves me with ‘grassroots’ journalism, which gets to the point of what
we’re doing — allowing folks nearest the ground, if you will, to
provide the news directly to other readers.
Maybe terminology
is not important. But if we want our readers to care about their words
in their work, I believe we should give careful thought to our words in
describing their work."

I can live with grassroots but it doesn’t get at the peer-to-peer qualities. I also don’t think grassroots adequately describes journalism nurtured by newsrooms.  Personal media may be about sharing personal media creations but when it’s not neccessarily journalism. Personal journalism? Sounds like its a personalized home page.

Back to you, Steve.

Coda: Re changing minds about terms … I suggested at BloggerCon III  that "podcasting" might be an exclusionary term, leading people who didn’t  know about it to think it referred only to iPods.  I also wondered if the term could draw the wrath of Steve. The response was instant and visceral: nothing could change minds about "podcasting" as the term and, besides, it wasn’t really about iPods. (Say that 1,000 times and people will still believe iPods is the root word.)  It had been in use only a few months but was already embedded in the consciousness of a vocal, active group — and was already at the core of numerous business plans. 


  1. Gabe

    I like “open media”. “Open” as in no barriers to entry. Maybe openness is the one important thing tying all this together?
    Sometimes open media isn’t grassroots. Like when a big name starts a blog. But there’s still “openness”, something new and special. Fewer barriers, less filtering, etc. And that’s important.

  2. Anna Haynes

    The correct term, for those who don’t make money at it, were it not for the connotational baggage, would be “amateur”.
    Cornell has a network of “citizen scientists” collecting data on birds.
    But once remuneration enters into the process, “citizen” no longer provides any semantic utility, in fact it degrades the meaning of the word.
    sole proprietorship
    micro, nano (but like amateur, these are hard on the ego)
    the “apposed to the professional” meaning most akin to it is rural China’s “barefoot doctors”; but “hello, I’m a barefoot journalist” is not an introduction that engenders respect.
    “grassroots” is best, I think, with the subspecies “citizen” for those who are not paid. Then later we’ll have to discard “citizen” since it’ll come to mean “amateur”. 🙂

  3. Webfeed Central


    Put simply: Not all citizens are amateurs, but all of the journalists “are” citizens. Citizen Journalism fits!
    I just got through reading an article by Steve Outing that described 11 different “layers” of Citizen Journalism. I think that there may b…

  4. Seth de l'Isle

    “Citizen Journalism” seems to have more mind share; it might be too late to change that. I would like to draw a distinction between two kinds of projects to which we might apply this label. The first involves media companies who enlist the aid of their readers to improve on the news as a product, as you suggest:
    “…allowing folks nearest the ground, if you will, to provide the news directly to other readers.”
    Grassroots journalism implies a democratization of how a community chooses to understand current events.

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