Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Citizen newsgathering | stomp

Jon Stewart has something to say about Stomp - I mean, CNN's new I-report, whereby everyone is recruited to become a CNN reporter.

The BBC editors' blog - have I mentioned that I really do love their blogs? - also wrote about the idea of citizen journalism.

Essentially, they make an important distinction between citizen newsgathering, and citizen journalism. Stomp - newsgathering. Yawningbread, Backfence, Singaporeheritage, - citizen journalism. Newsgathering is just that - getting news and reports in - or out. Journalism - refers to sorting out the story, and analysing it, ultimately producing something that needs to be recorded and presented.

History's sort of like that. You get a stack of materials, from shopping receipts to court records, and while the part about the chancellor caught in flagrant delicto with the tortoise is undoubtedly hilarious, it doesn't do anything for the overall story, nor is it particularly earthshaking. (Unless it involves the phrase Chelonius Mobilus, and that's a whole new planet. Literally) So you leave it out.

In fact, the recent efforts by the National Heritage board have reminded me of this important distinction. With webbies and programs like and the Family tree project, and the NLB's decision to archive websites - well, what the NHB is doing to essentially citizen heritage resource gathering. (That's a damn clumsy phrase, I admit.) They're gathering records for the future and the present, sending citizen heritage/memory gatherers into past. And eventually, a historian will put it together, and write up these little histories.

There's also a point that the BBC makes, that I think historians can empathise with. Much has been written recently about the threat that blogs and citizen journalism pose towards the traditional media - both from insecure bloggers and equally insecure MSM. (I'm not going to discuss the Singapore context here) However, it's worth noting that BBC, arguably the veteran of MSM, doesn't quite share the concerns of lesser newsbeings, and in fact has taken the simple stand that there isn't a threat - and in fact, that they complement each other.

Historians don't regard citizens as a threat - why should the BBC?

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