Posted by: mystressm | February 18, 2008

Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism is the democratization of information dispersal. For a long time, traditional media has been a gatekeeper – selecting the ‘newsworthy’ items from the entire world body of events – then choosing the few that were deemed important enough for mass exposure.

Traditional media – TV, Radio & newspapers – controlled until recently the only viable means for really mass information dispersal. This real-world physical limitation created a conveniently located physical funnel that left news and information vulnerable to massage, pressure and manipulation by various interest groups.

Governments, lobby groups and advertisers are only the start of a very long list of self-interested entities that have the power and desire to pander influence by pre-filtering information and view point expressions in a news ‘bite’ before the general public gets to see it.

Citizen Journalism has turned this model on its head. Without the physical constraints of printing presses and expensive television equipment, it is now possible for anyone to report on any event. The policeman can report on his robbery capture; the robber can report on his capture experience.

These many points of view – along with the affordable means to substantiate and document these events – have allowed the potentially mass-exposure of long marginalized points of view, ideas and events.

Groups such as companies or government who have long acted to silence or slant news to create public support for their view points are finding the preferential treatment of their vantage point increasingly disenfranchised and challenged by the Citizen Journalists.

A real-world example of this dichotomy is taking place right now in the United States Republican Presidential races. The line between those who get most of their information pre-filtered and manipulated through the major news outlet funnels and those who can actively seek their information through the Internet from any source or viewpoint has never been clearer.

Ron Paul is a presidential candidate who has a strong libertarian slant to his platform. He advocates not only getting out of Iraq, but also closing the approximately 700 US army bases in 130 countries around the world. He advocates a complete dismantling of the current taxation model in favour of a Libertarian model. The list of entrenched cabals that would be up heaved by this proposed revision of the political landscape is almost too numerous to enumerate.

Ron Paul was one in a field of 11 candidates.

On the Internet he is a rock star. He has more blogs and Internet news outlets focusing on his candidacy than all the other candidates combined. He has won all the straw polls in every state and has the most friends in social networking sites such as Facebook. He is so popular that Googling the word “Ron” by itself will net you Ron Paul’s home page as the first hit. Ron Paul raised the most money of all the Republican candidates – and not via the traditional large corporate sponsorships, but by tiny (average donation $90) amounts. A first in US history.

Traditional media described this fundraising phenomena as due the efforts of fringe element fanatics – even though the fundraising phenomena itself would normally be deemed a highly reportable newsworthy event. Historically, fundraising has been considered a barometer of public support and dollars raised a bellweather vote support indicator.

But not this time.

In traditional US media – Ron Paul is invisible. During various CNN sponsored Presidential Debates, Ron Paul got only an extremely tiny amount of debate time, further marginalized by the moderator’s attitude and “conspiracy-theory” entertainment-type questions designed to nominalize the answers. His rallies aren’t broadcast. The media “Talking Heads” avoid mention of him. His candidacy is often omitted from newspaper published candidate “list of choices”.

The soviet-style discrimination is so blatant that the discrimination itself has become newsworthy with major media outlets from Germany to New Zealand to Russia; who because of location had no vested interest in the outcome of the presidential race, and began reporting on it.

Despite this, Ron Paul won all the CNN online popularity polls. In fact he won all the news outlet polls everywhere.

CNN responded by removing an entire poll on one occasion, and after another debate it declared Ron Paul’s winning poll results as “tainted” and deleted them, leaving the runners-up candidates’ poll results standing. But not before numerous Citizen Reporters had taken screen shots and uploaded records of the discriminatory treatment to YouTube and various other social networking devices.

Not satisfied with that outcome, CNN’s affiliate, Fox News then refused to admit Ron Paul to the all-important final Presidential debate ahead of Super Tuesday elections. This, despite fact that the Republican Party itself withdrew its support of the debate in protest of this blatant exclusion of a viable candidate. The Fox News excuse? The table in their chosen venue could only seat 3. By now the field of candidates had narrowed from 11 to 4.

Citizen reporters responded by posting pictures of prior debates/interviews showing 4 people comfortably seated around the very same table in the very same venue in other broadcasts produced by Fox.

I believe that this campaign is a fine example of the defining line between the interests of producers and consumers of content. I also think that it demonstrates the current evolution of power of Citizen Journalism. Although Ron Paul will not win this presidency, it is interesting to note how some of the statistics are breaking out.

People who have greater access and facility on the Internet are heavily in favour of Ron Paul. Those who rely on public television and newspapers for their news sources are heavily in favour of the media-anointed favourites. As the population ages, the size and influence of the Internet savvy demographic will enlarge.

The tagline of Fox News – “We report and you decide” is changing to the unofficial mantra of Citizen Journalism – “We report and we decide”.



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