Saturday, 8 March 2014

Medway Messenger's review of Citizen Journalists

I was very disappointed to read David Jones' review of Citizen Journalists in yesterday's Medway Messenger.

He begins by asking a straight forward question; Are citizen journalists little better than the tiresome individuals who write rambling, often near incomprehensible, letters, to the editors of local newspapers? Discuss.

He then goes on to question the validity of the term and whether or not it is good for greater transparency or for democracy in Medway. Having been to a Full Council meeting in the past I can say that there are is a small selection of people in the Public gallery, usually those who have a question or an interest in a specific subject. If you then factor out the political activists (such as me) you end up with a core of four maybe five who are genuinely interested in the running of Medway council. Their tweets and blogs are always interesting reads and pick up on subjects that are glazed over (due to necessity and shortness of space etc) by the paper. Also for people like me, who cannot attend the meetings due to family commitments and yes - the new series of How I met your Mother on E4, the digital stream of information means I can see what is happening as it happens rather than just relying on a half page article in the paper. Clearly this is aiding transparency.

I agree that I have problems with the term Citizen Journalist. It is not something I would have chosen and I don't think any of the others who have been chosen to represent this manufactured term have either. Most of us are either interested in the subject or are Party members of one party or another. At no point do we consider ourselves journalists, I think commentators would be a better term for us as Journalist makes me feel like someone should be paying me for this!

It is indeed true that we have not undergone any formal Journalist training or have a vast wealth of experience. It is also true that I, like most people have my own bias and loyalties and yep, it shines through in my work sometimes. HOWEVER this is true of the Messenger as well. Dare I remind them of the City status story that condemned the Liberal Democrats in Medway of betraying the City bid by writing to Nick Clegg and asking him to not consider Medway despite the fact we had not agreed to it and were representing our constituents who had said they didn't want it? Whom did we betray? I would also argue that, seeing as the Messenger has the lions share of the printed media in the Medway towns, it is good to get someone else's point of view as like David I've read reports from meetings and wondered: Were they at the same meeting as I was?

When I did my much underusued History degree we were trained to absorb information be it written, oral or pictorial. Once notes had been taken draw out the key information and weave as unbiased a piece of narrative/argument as possible using facts, notes and quotes to back up your argument. I was, interestingly, told that a History degree was a great start for a career in Journalism so does that mean I'm half trained?

Only the Von Ranke school of history sought to get rid of bias and personal spin by only writing out the facts and this makes for boring journalism and history!

Citizen Journalists (God I hate saying that) are important in a way as they do add to transparency and the more voices that speak about things, the more information gets out and the more people may become interested in the subject and hold our elected body to account more. So I think it is unfair to knock it as an idea, just not the name - someone think of another name... please...

Also, and this is a personal request not related to the above; don't ask me to look at stories, or ask me what I think our MP/Councillors are thinking/doing or not doing. I'm not a professional Journalist, I write when I can on what I find interesting - cheers.

1 comment:

  1. I am broadly in agreement with at least the majority of this. I too have 'horror stories' I could tell about deliberately slanted (and, frankly, dishonest) reporting of Council meetings in the 'Messenger' in years gone past. Indeed, just about everything in the David Jones post could easily be placed on the other foot, as I have personally witnessed all of it around the other way – and could quote chapter and verse on it.

    The terminology for the new category is definitely ripe for debate – but the principle is right, and in accordance with Government views on making these meetings more open than they have ever been before.

    The orchestrated behaviour at recent Council meetings resulted once (and perhaps the lesson has now been learned) in the public being ejected from the meeting. This was correct, in accordance with the Rules that all parties on the Council agreed to years ago, and indeed must apply to any meeting of any organisation with public access: just put yourself in the position of being elected to represent a quarter of a million people, not just a claque with their own agenda.

    Thus the Citizen Commentators (a bit of a mouthful, but quite a good term!) are a good idea; and it is only those with a personal and/or ideological interest in dominating commentary and reporting in this new age who will be opposed. It is not for nothing that those folk are so often collectively known in some quarters as 'the dead tree press'. Perhaps one should remove the 'tree' from that phrase...