Shitizen Journalism

Prologue: Before reading any further, let the record show that Andy Curran, Associate Professor at The University of Cincinnati, coined the phrase “shitizen journalism” and its derivative, “shitizen journalist”, on Tuesday, December 23, 2008, at approximately 8:05 pm, Eastern Standard Time. This blog post will serve as the official time stamp. Although the term “shitizen” has been used by others, there is no record of it being used as an adjective before the words “journalism” or “journalist.” If you used either phrase before the aforementioned date and time, tough ****. I’m staking a claim to them and I will take full credit for coining them. Now read on for an explanation.

My colleague, Associate Professor Bill Sledzik of Kent State University, is co-producing a sabbatical video project with me. Last week we christened it, “The Sledzik-Curran Social Media Project”, and we will roll it out to the world shortly after the 2009 New Year. We interviewed seven social media leaders in business communications and education over the summer. Our cameras rolled in Cincinnati, Louisville, Chicago, and Rochester, NY. We are now deep into the post-production phase.

I semi-abandoned this blog a while back because it got in the way of other professional and personal activities. I decided to rekindle it on a limited basis because of some of the things that were said by some of our interviewees. The gist of this social media explosion is that every nimrod who has access to the web and the proper equipment can now be a “citizen journalist”, a term I did not coin. Ordinary Joes-on-the-street with no formal training can now be writers, photographers, podcasters, videographers, and animators. Did you ever see or listen to some of this crap? What’s another word for “crap?” Hence, the two terms noted above. If you want an official definition, here goes: “An amateur chronicler of events, usually of a personal nature, who has limited media production and writing skills.” Hey, Webster, can you or Merriam find some space for me next year?

Many of these pieces are ill-conceived, badly written, and poorly produced. Yes, anyone can produce content, but not everyone can produce it well. Hyper-kinetic videos, blurry photographs, distorted audio, and poor grammar are but a few of the common mistakes shitizen journalists make. Some of them try very hard to be funny and edgy, and they often fail. Some don’t bother to check facts. Others think they’re the next Conan O’Brien or Howard Stern, but they have no camera or microphone presence. Their blogs, podcasts, and videos ramble. Good writers try to become photographers or video/audio producers, and the skills don’t transfer.

I have no problem with these people playing around with cameras and microphones. It is, after all, a free country. However, I get out of sorts when they insult media professionals by pretending they can do a better job. If they really want to be legitimate participants in this new universe, they need to get some training in the application(s) they want to use. Many bad drivers have licenses and own cars. The analogy holds true in the world of shitizen journalism.

Epilogue: The Sledzik-Curran Social Media Project will bring these issues to the surface. Bill and I will invite you to watch and comment when the project is ready to roll.

Because it is the Christmas season, you might be interested in this rerun of a post about working on the radio on Christmas Eve from last year.

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3 thoughts on “Shitizen Journalism

  1. I look foward to the project.

    But I have to disagree with your broad brush stroke of cit-j. I’ve seen a lot of shitizen journalism from professionals, too. I’ve read horrid, boring blogs by reporters; watched jerky video from reporters; and heard poor audio from reporters. Any I wail at the quality of good old-fashioned print journalism in my local dailies, too.

    If journalism is to reinvent itself and stay relevant, no matter what the medium, we can’t do it wearing elite blinders. Normal folks are going to be participants in the new universe, whether we like it or not. The challenge for media is how to harness the good ones, how to train citizen journalists, after all, “citizens” have been writing columns and, yes, sometimes news for decades.

    “You can always find reasons not to do things. Then fine, don’t do them. Far more interesting and useful is to explore what might happen if you do them,” says Jeff Jarvis (http://www.buzzmachine.com/2008/07/23/a-cure-for-curmudgeons/)

    Now, with that said, I am the first to fight for j-rights: for truth, accuracy, objectivity and the credo “do no harm.” We are still gatekeepers and it’s our job to shine the light. The public understands that and respects that.

    Instead of decrying this trend, I would hope that academia would “lead, follow or get out of the way.”

  2. Pingback: A New Year’s Teaser « MediaTide

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