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Power of Citizen Journalists

There is no denying that citizen journalists need to be taken seriously. Anyone can be a citizen journalist, and many people are taking advantage of that opportunity. All people need is an internet connection and they can entire the journalism industry full force.

Mayhill Fowler is an example of a citizen journalist who has exemplified the power they can have. As a reporter for the Off the Bus project for The Huffington Post, she has broken stories that only she had access to. Her reporting on bitter and elitist comments that then campaign-hopeful Barack Obama made and nasty comments Bill Clinton made about a Vanity Fair reporter contributed to national headlines. These stories didn’t just stay on her HuffPost blog. Mainstream journalists picked up the stories and her journalism was being followed.

This is just one example of a citizen journalist who covered important issues that professional journalists weren’t covering. Citizen journalists tend to have different interests and agendas when they are covering issues, compared to professional journalists, which influences the topics they cover. They also tend to have access to different people and events that traditional journalists don’t have access to or don’t know about.

This was also the case with Fowler during some of the campaign stops. In a Salon article Alex Koppelman brought up the ethical issue of Fowler having access to a non-press event and not disclosing herself as a journalism to Clinton. Had Fowler distinguished herself as a journalist she may not have gotten access to the stories she covered. Even though she is a citizen journalist, she should still hold herself to the same journalistic standards professional journalists follow, if she wanted to be treated and respected as a journalist. While not every journalist discloses their agenda or their profession in a given situation, it is something journalists, even citizen journalists should strive for. Getting the hard-hitting important story is important, but it is also important to conduct yourself ethically and with integrity.

Fowler may not have conducted herself as I would have put in her situations, but it is undeniable she did important journalist work when she was only considered a citizen journalist. Citizen journalists have just as much opportunity and potential to cover the important stories as professional journalists.

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Transparency Over Objectivity

As David Weinberger pointed out in his article about transparency and objectivity, objectivity does not exist to the extent that it is taught in journalism classes. Journalists may like to believe they are telling objective stories to their audiences, but it can’t be done. Every journalist enters a story with personal experiences, pre-conceived notions, biases and different understandings of a topic. As much as both sides of a story are presented and there are an equal amount of sources, the journalist still chooses what quotes to include, what details are relevant and what sources to even interview. All of these factors diminish objectivity, but it doesn’t mean journalists can’t do their job effectively or well. Journalism just needs to be approached from a different perspective.

Transparency is how journalists can still do their jobs effectively and combat the standards established by the unattainable notions of objectivity. Disclosing biases and informing audiences of where journalists are coming from creates a better understanding among readers and journalists. In situations where journalists are transparent, readers know exactly what kind of story they are reading and why a specific angle was taken or why a journalist told a story the way he or she did.

If journalists don’t try to be objective it does not mean they are not telling a story accurately or fairly. They are telling it from their perspective and based on the information they researched. If they feel like one side is acting wrong or unfairly and they have the research to back it up, there is no reason the readers should not trust that story. There aren’t overarching policies or standards that can be applied to journalism because there are so many different situations and cases that can’t be predicted or change over time. Publications have different content and agendas, and this is going to influence both the transparency of the publication and the reporters. The key is being transparent, instead of trying to reach an objective standard that does not exist.

As Weinberge said:

The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark.

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