Jim Long - Digital Media and Culture

Scorched Earth Screeds on Citizen vs. Professional Media

Can’t we all just get along? As two of my favorite foils, Michael Rosenblum and Jeff Jarvis were storming the gates of traditional TV at the NAB conference in Vegas, many of the journalists who actually do the “boots on the ground” work of TV news were in Blacksburg, VA, covering the worst single shooting rampage in American history.


There is no doubt that citizen journalism and social media played absolutely vital roles in bringing context, community and diverse viewpoints to this tragic event. I pointed out that the first person photojournalism of Jamal Albarghouti itself was historic and provided a chilling account of the shooting. I spoke to Jamal today by phone and, interestingly, he disagrees with Michael Rosenblum’s assertions about the future of TV news. Firstly, he doesn’t consider himself a journalist. More importantly, he considers the role of professional media crucial.

As for the role of citizen journalism and if it will replace traditional media,
I personally think that citizen journalism will indeed change traditional
media in sense that it will improve it. I think we will be seeing more and more
people taking videos about future news incidents. I think we might even come to
a point where we get more than one video for only one story. However, I do not
think that citizen journalism will by any mean replace traditional media (it
will just improve it). I think that people covering the news now (traditional
media) are professionals who know what they are doing. they tend to give a
wider prospective than a citizen journalist. For example, when the media came
here to VT, they talked to VT officials, police, families of the victims,
students and last, they were able to somehow show what the shooter was
thinking. I do not think that a citizen journalist alone would be able to give
such a picture but he or she would definitely help in doing so.
-Jamal Albarghouti

Traditional media was the ones getting all the facts and representing it to everyone all over the world. The tradtional media had the big picture of covering all the stories. Citizen journalists will have a bigger role but it won’t replace traditional media. We wil see more people getting video.
-Jamal Albarghouti

Jamal, a Palestinian, says it was his exposure to professional journalism while living in the West Bank, that gave him the courage to record the terrifying events of April 16th 2007. It’s interesting that he has such pragmatic view of his role while others hold him up as the future model of TV News.

i’m not a journalist, i just did this. i was there and i took the video. Traditional media was important, seeing how professionals worked allowed me to do what i did. i would’ve never thought of doing that at Virginia Tech.
-Jamal Albarghouti

The scorched earth screeds of both Jarvis and Rosenblum begin to ring hollow a bit. In fact, in Jarvis’ post he inadvertantly (I suspect) points out the dogmatic nature of Rosnblum’s rants.

At an RTNDA panel, my pal, panel star Michael Rosenblum, lectured executives and stars of local TV news about this implosion.
-Jeff Jarvis

From what I heard, “lecturing” is precisely what Rosenblum was engaged in. Lecturing is what someone with ALL the answers does. Rosenblum and Jarvis are both men of big ideas, who often speak in absolute terms. I’m always suspicious of people who speak in absolutes and don’t leave room for dissenting points of view. Winning the argument becomes more important than exchange of ideas an I don’t think that’s terribly productive.

Unlike strumpette, who has a very clever take on the citizen/social media movement, I believe that there is a place for the amateur. Unlike Jeff and Michael, I still believe there is a place for infrastructure. Having said that, both of them have a great many ideas to share, and many are right on the money. Traditional TV is certainly bending under the weight of its infrastructure, but you can print this: It ain’t going anywere. Will it change, even dramatically? Absolutely. Will it be replaced entirely by VJ’s and citizen journos? Highly unlikely.

Ultimately smart media companies will create a complementary blend of professinal and citizen. Rosenblum raises an issue that has remained hidden in the back of my mind for some time. How long can anchors contine to be paid 50 to 100 times more than the average network worker bee in a time where audiences are shifting to non linear content on the web, and revenue streams continue to fragment. I’m hesitant to even publicly loft such a notion, particularly since I’ll be working with Brian Willams, who I respect and admire a great deal, this coming Monday. But as the pie continues to shrink, big media will not be well served to continue coming after the earning capacity of its best and brightets workers.

Once again it’s people placing far too much faith in technology. Jeremiah Owyang of Podtech posted a video produced for Podtech client Topix discussing the problems wiht local news. Many of the interviews spoke of aggregators and feedback loops, but it was Craigslist’s Craig Newmark, that hit the nail on the head. What’s missing is more investigative journalism. And that folks, translates to people and time, which equals infrastructure. Rosenblum’s mantra is small cameras, which as Stewart Pittman points out in his dispatch from Blacksburg, can prove an astonishly poor storytelling tool, in some circumstances.

I couldn’t help but realize this as I watched a muttonchopped dude with a tricked-out consumer-cam, working the pack of mourning kids like he was shooting a concert. Too cool for sticks, he cradled his lens awkwardly in his upturned palms, jamming the damn thing repeatedly in the faces of sobbing freshmen.


Journalism is ultimately about hard working, dedicated people (read infrastructure). It is often a thankless undertaking whose particpants are often looked upon with disdain. Journalists sacrifice time with their families and risk their lives to practice their craft. I frankly don’t care if they’re professional or amateur. I do care if they have to the courage to seek out and tell the truth, despite how unpopular that truth may be.


DC Media Maker Andy Carvin, pointed me in the direction of a very interesting discussion about Jamal’s video and citizen journalism that took place at the DC Web Women’s web 2.0 panel. Andy provides some useful insights along with fellow DC Media Maker Jonny Goldstein. The video was shot and cut by Jill Foster (also DCMM)

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  • http://www.rosenblumtv.com Rosenblum

    Thanks for the pings!
    But I just want to clarify one point. I am also in favor of a blend of pros and ‘citizens’, In fact, the good ‘citizens’ become pros – the way some writers become professional writers but everyone starts by picking up the pencil and taking a crack at it. Small cameras allow anyone to do the same in video. In the long run, the best will work their way to the top, and much like the much missed Mr. Halberstam, become professionals. Ironically, I was hired by the PBC (Palestinian Broadcasting Corp) to build a local TV news op Ramallah about 15 years ago. We must have done too good a job. Shortly after we opened, our reporters (citizen and otherwise) started to expose corruption in the Palestinian local authority, Mr. Arafat soon closed down our whole op – and it was not because we were using hi8! :)

  • http://spaceygreview.blogspot.com/2007/04/life-during-wartime.html SpaceyG

    I wish we complacent backwater southerners could even use e-mail to commit a little citizen journalism and help expose certain issues in this state/local gov. We seem utterly dependent on the kindness of Big Media/Cox Country journalism. We don’t even have anything worth shutting down when it comes to citizen journalism. A few blogs here and there in Georgia that are swatted at like mosquitoes is all I can think of. The Palestinians are light years ahead of us.

  • http://andycarvin.com andy carvin

    Jamal’s comments reminds me of the discussion Jonny Goldstein and I had about citizen journalism at the DC Web Women forum a couple weeks ago. Here’s a clip:


    I basically said that journalism is an inherently civic act, and most bloggers don’t see themselves as journalists. They’re using their blogs to write, debate and share ideas, and not necessarily “do journalism.” And those of us who occasionally do civic journalism often don’t see ourselves in those terms. Instead, it’s more like we have moments of drive-by journalism in which people are in the right place at the right time – and with the right equipment.

  • http://andycarvin.com andy carvin

    Just to clarify, in the opening section of the video from the DC Web Women event, we were actually debating whether Cho’s video diatribes could be construed as citizen journalism. I was arguing no way, because they have no civic value and only serve prurient interest.

  • http://kingleonard.blogspot.com Leonard

    Perhaps we’re doing these people a disservice when we label them journalists. Given discussions about how we define journalism we may need to see people who catch moments on camera, audio recorder, etc, less as journalists and more as documenters.

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