Civic journalism – a threat or an addition for a journalist?

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When the first amateur authors decided to try their hand at publishing on newspaper portals, no one from the editorial office paid much attention to it. Initially, citizen journalists limited themselves mainly to informing full-time journalists about a given problem, asking them to intervene. At some point, they noticed that it started to work, but journalists were not interested in all of them either. Eventually, they started publishing simple information and photo galleries themselves. They were about the problems that surrounded them. Full-time journalists were given another source of information, thanks to which they could prepare one more article for which they would receive money. Most often, the editor took the text of a citizen journalist as a statement for his article and illustrated the article with his photos (if they were qualitatively suitable).

Over time, however, amateurs stopped just informing and began to write as well. Full-time journalists accused them of the fact that the articles were an overview, and sometimes even an exact copy of their texts. There were also opinions that citizens’ journalists are parasites and their poor-quality original texts should not find a place for publication. Hubert Głos, who started out as a citizen journalist from Lublin and now runs his own portal, comments:

A large proportion of people do not understand our mission, which is to change our environment for the better. We often read various unpleasant comments in which, for the fact that we described, for example, that someone broke a tree, someone compared us to the old security services. The internet is saturated with people who have complexes and want to unload themselves on people who do more than the rest. We can’t get discouraged by this, just keep doing our job

It turned out, however, that the amateurs were not discouraged by the blunt comments, and their experience grew more and more and began to try their hand at more elaborate forms. They posted better and better articles, photos and even videos. The texts are often consulted with editorial offices as well as with other civic journalists who have created thematic categories that they deal with. There are situations in which amateurs talk to the spokesmen of institutions whether they find the heroes of their texts, just like a normal journalist. Editors are happy because with such articles they do not have to spend so much time preparing articles for publication. They start to trust civic journalists more and more, and instead of journalists, they send amateurs on current topics, such as accidents, fires, conferences, and exhibitions. For amateurs, the publication of such reports in newspapers is an additional incentive. It should be emphasized that they do not receive any fees for it.

Although there are still some very poor quality texts, there are more and more better ones. On the other hand, full-time journalists still hold a grudge against amateurs. One of the journalists, who has been working in the profession for almost 20 years, in an interview with me admitted that the reason is simple – fear for his own job. If the editorial office begins to entrust the duties of full-time employees to enthusiasts who want to prove themselves and do not want money for it, then at some point managers may consider it a good business model. After all, why should they pay for something they can have for free? Especially since corporations look at stock prices and not what and how a given editorial office does. What do the citizen journalists themselves think about the charges? Dr. Leszek Mikrut, UMCS lecturer and citizen journalist notes:

Citizen journalists slide along parallel lines with journalists, and they can feel at ease. Occasionally someone will write a comment that a professional journalist could learn something from an amateur, but this is mainly to praise the amateur’s effort. Each of us has his own style, I write in a completely different trend, what We want and in our original character. Journalists’ publications are drier, succinct and professional, but there is no soul in it. If the reader wants to read with heart and soul, he moves on to our texts. Both materials are needed.

Leszek Mikrut’s opinion is not shared by another citizen journalist – Hubert Głos, who claims:

This should be considered in two aspects. The first is that one type of journalism draws from the other, thanks to which information is exchanged quickly and authors can complement each other with details that are missing in others. Often times, editorial offices do not have enough people to appear at all events, then using citizen services. On the other hand, citizen journalists pose a threat to full-time employees, because the latter must be well prepared for their profession – know the law, be able to write, and such things are not required of an amateur. It is enough that he has the ability to observe and can write. A doctor who finishes his studies and goes to work in a hospital is not always a doctor by vocation. It is similar in journalism – for some it is just a job, for citizen journalists it is a passion and hobby. Here, the value of the material grows, because the civic will pay off, and the professional doesn’t want to. If someone is better than another, why not work with or with that person?

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Experienced publishers are reluctant to cooperate with citizen journalists. They believe that amateurs only act until they have enough ambition. When they learn to do what they do well, they will come to the editorial office and ask for money or a job. Nobody will disinterestedly and systematically follow the orders of the editorial staff. And in them, jobs are constantly being made redundant, and new people are not hired. Roman Kubiak, an experienced journalist and publisher, as well as the editor-in-chief of all newspapers and portals of MM Moje Miasto in Poland, believes:

Citizen journalism is not a threat to the professional journalist. Will a citizen journalist handle 6-7 must-drive events every day that need to be described in no time – even on Saturday afternoon and Sunday at dawn? Such an amateur journalist does only what he wants – that is too little for the requirements of the portal or newspaper. It is sad that amateurs cooperating with the editorial office have become a bogeyman of publishers (media owners) for journalists and full-time photojournalists. If you do not agree to lower wages, we will replace you with a citizen journalist! – “full-time employees” hear. Or: “Why do we need expensive photos, if we can have free and not worse than the civil one?

Citizen journalism in the Lubelskie Voivodeship is at a very high level, hence the fears of full-time authors are growing. What is the situation in other regions in Poland? Tomasz Wróblewski, who has been managing the work of editors of portals belonging to Nowa Trybuna Opolska (Pro-Media) for many years, explains:

The portals will be eager and more and more willing to use the materials provided by citizen journalists. A disturbing phenomenon can already be noticed when editorial offices prefer to send a photo or a simple article by an amateur journalist who does not wait for money, but is satisfied with the editorial recognition and publication of his text. Such material is money taken from a photojournalist and a journalist. Such simplification of work when creating news is dangerous because, for example, journalistic sub-genres, such as traditional investigative materials, may suffer. This, in turn, means that the media’s control and gaze at the hands of the authorities, institutions, etc. may disappear. Already, there is less investigative journalism in the media. Such – difficult topics will not be taken up by the citizens. Because he doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t have experience either. An experienced journalist will not help him, because it is professional suicide for him

Jacek Tomaszewski, former head of MM Silesia, notes that citizen journalists often deal with topics that professional journalists do not have time for, and neither do he. Because of how he adds the material anyway goes to him, only written by another person. Even so, he does not think amateurs are replacing professionals.

It will never happen for a simple reason. Citizens simply do not have the same opportunities as journalists in editorial offices. I cannot imagine that an amateur would describe the Water Gate or Rywin scandal. For citizens, it’s a hobby, i.e. it’s nice to go to a concert for free, take some pictures and write a few words. Or describe the problem with a stop in your district, because that’s what our readers write about. Citizen journalists deal with micro-local issues, which a full-time editor omits for many reasons

Jacek Tomaszewski appreciates amateurs for their willingness to share information or readiness to implement materials commissioned by the editorial office. Wojciech Kozak, former head of the MM Trójmiasto editorial office, which covers Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia, notes that civic journalism is the same threat to traditional newspapers and media as the Internet is a threat to the press.

The popularity of citizen journalism, and more specifically free journalism, makes publishers believe that information can be obtained today at minimal / free cost. It is enough to go to the main page of the largest Polish internet portals and read a few articles to find out that it has little to do with top-flight journalism. I do not criticize citizen journalism as such. Because it is a natural consequence of the development of new media, but 99 percent of citizen journalists. we are not able to replace with well-trained professional journalists. Citizen journalism, too, is a threat to the “old-timers”, but I hope it will never replace them.

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Jakub Markiewicz
Jakub Markiewiczhttps://jotem.in
Hi, I am the author of the Jotem.in blog and series of thematic portals since 2013. I have nearly 15 years of experience in working in the media, marketing, public relations and IT. If you are interested in cooperation, you would like me to write about something or test a product - let me know.
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