Jay Rosen, the founder of Assignment Zero, a project where journalism is run by the public rather than the media, seems to be re-affirming his beliefs about citizen journalism and new media.
Rosen has long believed that citizen journalism promotes social democracy. Recently, he published an essay on how the Internet is weakening the authority of the press that further expands on his idea.
Rosen suggests that because the lines between the spheres of consensus, legitimate debate and deviance have been blurred, it has complicated things for the practice of journalism in the United States. Journalists have been taught to uphold the journalistic virtues of objectivity and balance as well as the basic American ideologies of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while rejecting those who challenge these beliefs.
The presence of bloggers and civilian journalists on the Internet threatens to expose the unwillingness of traditional journalists to delve deeper into stories that go against legitimate debate and consensus. Such exposure weakens their authority and makes readers less likely to trust their impartiality when covering stories.
By being able to connect with each other and share the stories and accounts, citizen journalists are learning that "the 'sphere of legitimate debate" as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition." Rosen continues,
In the past there was nowhere for this kind of sentiment to go. Now it collects, solidifies and expresses itself online. Bloggers tap into it to gain a following and serve demand. ... But what’s really happening is that the authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.
As an established critic of journalists and faculty member at the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, Rosen challenges the traditional roles of "big media" in a way that will make any reporter cringe and average blogger esteem with duty. He makes light of the roles and responsibilities of anyone with a "professional" title. Jobs that fall within the confines of business-casual dress code and "regular" work hours must adhere to the established norms, or else suffer consequences (held within the sphere of deviance, you might say). It is very easy and convenient to accuse journalists of adhering to spheres of consensus and legitimate debate -- when, essentially, unemployed laymen can write whatever they want, free of editors and style guides that serve to establish boundaries (professional and civil).
Bloggers and citizen journalists definitely serve a purpose in that they are able to report from the places that traditional media can't access. But they shouldn't unseat journalists altogether. Mr. Rosen's concern that unregulated voices on the Internet can weaken the authority of the media is substantiated, but only if both constituencies work against each other. CNN and other "big media" outlets have used citizen journalists to supplement their stories or to add additional voices and perspectives to important events, while civilians gain exposure for their contributions. The news media knows that its greatest competitor isn't another paper or cable channel, but the blogger or citizen reporter. If bloggers are successful in weakening and ruining the authority of traditional journalism, they will only end up with the same spheres to uphold while a new generation of Internet sleuths wait to displace them.