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Citizen Medicine and Citizen Journalism

In my many Google Alerts is one for “citizen journalism.” I get some interesting material from it and most often it’s people picking on the subject in defense of “real journalism” (which I do not have a Google Alert set up for.)

Hence I found myself reading a college op-ed bemoaning the possibility of the University of Colorado, Boulder phasing out their journalism program. There’s more to it, but that’s not what I’m interested in.

I was pulled in via this phrase: “I’ve long subscribed to the belief that citizen journalism is akin to citizen dentistry. With little oversight concerning journalistic ethics and the transmission of concise, accurate reporting, there is little guarantee of the profession and its watchdog role being upheld in the coming decades.”

Of course there’s the expected anti-citizen journalism vitriol in the preceding paragraph (“…when anyone with a case of Diet Coke, mild carpal tunnel, a working knowledge of design programs and a laptop can be considered a “citizen journalist…”), and the dentistry analogy is supposed to drive that home – but it actually set me brainstorming in a different direction.

To borrow and change this metaphor a little – Let’s say journalism is a bit like medicine. You’ve got your general practitioners and your specialists. And citizen journalism is akin to citizen medicine. Which is not a bad thing! You only want a well-trained licensed doctor to perform surgery just in the same way it’s preferable to have august, credentialed and venerated minds at a place like ProPublica conducting your investigative reporting. But trust me, it’s of great valuable to society for everyone to know a little bit about first aid and to have a few folks around who are trained in CPR.

What simplistic arguments against citizen journalism do is conflate CPR with open heart surgery, bandaging a cut with re-attaching a limb.

What does this give us to work with? Perhaps we should extend this analogy to education.

With the same ubiquity as posters in the workplace that teach citizens how to perform first aid, perhaps the media should start to include little tips and tactics of performing one’s part in journalism? Forget branding it citizen journalism, forget starting formal programs that you can join as a “[vowel]Reporter”. Just offer weekend training sessions for the truly interested, online tips for proper cellphone photography, and easy-to-navigate ways to become deputized in a greater effort.

(Thanks to Mr. Jake Begun at The Badger Herald for the kick-start to the brainstorm.)

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