Crank Dat Citizen Journalist

February 10, 2009

With all the discussion surrounding citizen journalism versus traditional/professional journalism, there are some key points that we as a global community mustn’t forget.  Since the so called “founding fathers” took it upon themselves to define a constitution and create a country not beholden to a tyrannous monarch, freedom of speech as the “bullwork” of a free society (as Madison put it) has been on the proverbial chopping block.  As we sit on the cusp of a new era, one dog-eared with the hope of increased social and political liberation, I ask the question: what about American youth?  

I’m not talking about the American youth who mobilized like never before to elect the first African American president; nor the youth who hold and have the luxury to value higher education above all else.  I speak about a subset of our culture more concerned with pop culture bulletins on MySpace than MSNBC online; youth who see the internet as entertainment, a place where they connect with friends to trade cell phone videos of fights and weekend parties.  There is a large part of our “high-tech” society that views the internet in a fundamentally different manner than our colleagues in academia.  As the discussion of citizen journalism versus the old guard continues, I ask if there is time to reach back and attempt to bring in a younger generation on equal footing from the start?  

Plans to combat many prescient issues surrounding youth in this country are glossy and inaccurate. The arrival of a “corp” of young civilian journalists, reporting from the “front lines” of the American youth experience, could be of incredible benefit for more informed policies regarding youth.  Perhaps time will lend itself naturally to the concept of younger and younger generations taking an active role in citizen journalism; the key here is the beauty of the only community which allows everyone to participate.  The hope is that young Americans are encouraged and even instructed to use new technological tools, not only for entertainment but for social change.  

As Richard Sambrook pointed out in his USC address, corporate media still controls the internet.  Giving young people a platform that operates outside of this corporate stranglehold is essential. Creating a new definition of internet use among this population is crucial to the coalescence of social justice, civilian journalism and a fresh sense of how information is created and disseminated.  As long as corporate news media remains in control of news corporations, there will be a corresponding lack of interest among a large section of young people.  As news media becomes more “the product of the people,” we should see increased participation from this underrepresented youth population.  The continued advancement of civilian journalism is inevitable; the debate on its value will be extensive and at some point far overdone. However the chips fall, let us not forget that empowerment of civilian journalism may only be as good as how many undervalued populations receive this power.

Sam Neill

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