Issue of citizen journalism produces heated debate

As widely reported on the #newsrw Twitter feed, things got a little heated in the crowdsourcing session at news:rewired, particularly over the issue of citizen journalism. Sitting on the panel were Kate Day, head of communities at; Andy Heath from pro-am journalism agency Demotix; and Ruth Barnett, Westminster correspondent from Sky news.

Andy Heath’s statement that the difference between citizen journalism and professional journalism was minimal led to shouting amongst those in attendance.

Heath’s remarks led one member of the audience, Rachel Lamb, a lecturer in journalism from Southampton Solent, to question what the incentive was for people to study as journalists.

Brett Spencer, of 5 Live, also mentioned the difficulty in trusting and verifying crowdsourced data – for example with the Fort Hood tragedy, details of which were misreported on Twitter – and said citizen journalism could not be equated “with real journalism or reporting”.

Matthieu Stefani, vice-president of French citizen journalist service Citizenside weighed in on verification, saying that agencies for citizen journalism can use available technology to verify photographs, and that in the majority of cases people were honest.

After the debate, I grabbed Kate Day, Ruth Barnett and social media expert Kristine Lowe to ask why they thought the term ‘citizen journalism’ was so contentious:

Kate Day said: “It’s a very difficult question. I think it’s difficult because human beings struggle with change.”

Kristine Lowe, said: “I think the concept of citizen journalism is ambiguous and lots of journalists feel threatened by this concept.”

According to Ruth Barnett the word itself is irrelevant. Whether those who contributed data were considered citizen journalists or contributors, it was still about the process of telling a story, she said.

Whatever the term used, and whatever the disagreements, the consensus appeared to be that crowdsourcing was a useful technique to compliment reporting.

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