Lengthy debate on the differences between traditional and citizen journalism engaging, thought-provoking and even contentious

The following is a lengthy and perhaps even controversial discussion regarding a question that I had posted in the Celebritize Yourself! Group on the LinkedIn social network.

Rather than distract you with a preamble, I will let the exchange itself do the talking and of course would invite your comments.

On Life support, is local television dying?  Even More important a question, should it be saved?

Here is a link to an article I have written ( http://wp.me/pydAP-H7 ), which points to several reports and articles on the on-going viability of local television.

What are your thoughts?


Question. Why do we feel that any citizen can be a journalist yet we don’t think any citizen can become a doctor, an architect or an engineer. I have not heard the expression citizen architect. Journalism is a profession. There are journalism schools all over North America. Now to write an opinion is different .Every body can be a citizen opinion writer, but that isn’t journalism. We learn as journalists how to practice our craft in universities and on the job from more experienced people. A citizen journalist is responsible to nobody while reporters are responsible to the public and to their editors and publishers.

Jon W. Hansen

Media veteran J. William Grimes predicted this past summer that daily newspapers would be a thing of the past within the next five years (perhaps even sooner). Citing data that showed that newspapers only accounted for 15% of the $67 billion spent on advertising in the US last year – 10% lower than the previous decade, Grimes stressed that dailies only have 5% of the total market in terms of readership.

Even with making the transition over to electronic-based versions, stalwarts such as the New York Times continue to bleed money. What was shocking is that rather than stemming the losses, the Times’ electronic versions lost money as well.

There is a reason for this decline. I am afraid, and with all due respect Alan, your comments reflect the elitist attitudes that have led to the very disconnect with the readers, viewers and listeners from which the present state has been manifested.


Is it elitist to expect a doctor to have a medical degree or can anyone look up anything on the internet and call themselves a doctor or an engineer. What you are revealing is a contempt for real journalists who cultivate sources who dig.You think one of your citizen journalists would have broken Watergate or the Mai Lai massacre. I’ll take Seymour Hersh and Woodward and Bernstein over a guy with a phone camera.There is a great Italian movie which was about Fascist Italy. The first scene is a terrified Donald Sutherland running away from a mob. The mob looks angry and bloodthirsty and your sympathy is with Sutherland who will probably die a horrible death. In fact as the movie explain Sutherland played a monstrous Mussolini black shirt who terrorized Il Duce’s opponents.They were wreaking revenge for his atrocities.They wanted to capture him ,probably kill him.

What oit wasn’t was a an opponent of regime running for his life from fascists.
The citizen journalist with his iphone maybe would have captured the scene and assumed yjay an innocent man was being attacked. But the reporter would have have asked the questions. Is there a different story other than angry mob attacks innocent man. He may have recognized the character that Sutherland played from because he may have covered him. The citizen journalist can give raw pictures but it’s the reporter who understand the perspective.

Jon W. Hansen

While there are certainly those of the iPhone genre who fit your profile, not all citizen journalists are wannabe cub reporters who recklessly fire off musings without proper research.

When I covered the H1N1 virus which included a 90 minute special “The Pandemic Effect” ( http://www.blogtalkradio.com/jon-hansen/2009/05/26/special-broadcast-for-want-of-a-nail-the-pandemic-effect- ) with a top researcher from CIDRAP, followed by a post titled “Is There a Vaccine for Social Media ( https://piwindowonbusiness.wordpress.com/2009/10/27/is-there-a-vaccine-for-social-media/ ) it was widely received as being both a thorough and well-balanced view of a thought-provoking subject.

Or consider my extensive writings on the Buy American Policy which not only included a guest panel interview with four international thought leaders on the subject, but also an interview with Canada’s Trade Minister and the gubernatorial candidate for Maine. The heart of my discussion (and focu) was the policy’s impact relative to the Clark and Fourastie three sector hypothesis of industry which is now four with the advent of high tech and R&D ( http://procureinsights.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/pi-window-on-business-celebrates-75th-broadcast-with-special-anniversary-offer/ ).

Finally, my interview with leading venture capitalist Brad Feld regarding the need for Founders Visas to accommodate foreign graduates who want to start a business in the US. Coming out of the best US business schools these entrepreneurs are often forced to return to their countries because neither the H-1B or EB-5 Visas are structured to address their particular situation ( http://www.blogtalkradio.com/jon-hansen/2009/11/20/diminishing-prospects-how-us-policy-is-undermining ). This segment and corresponding posts led to record numbers in terms of listeners and readership.

After you do your research tell me, do I fall into your broad definition of all citizen journalists?


You maybe very thorough , vigilant and make sure what you say is factual. When somebody works for CNN or NYT or WSJ sure I know their biases but I know that their reputations are on the line. The reporters know their job is on the line. There is accountability . If they get their facts wrong it can damage a news organizations reputation for quite a while. A citizen journalist reports to nobody His copy isn’t vetted. He has has no editors grilling him about whether he can say certain things. You seem responsible and diligent and ,maybe you do good stuff. There are people who as a hobby or personal interest studied how to build a house. But I would rather go with an experienced tradesman.

Jon W. Hansen

And that is why Alan, traditional journalists are by and large going the way of the dinosaur.

Accountability at the end of the day in social media is based more on personal reputation not less. Accuracy is not a hobby or an option in a world where the channels of information (be it news or otherwise) are no longer confined to an artificially narrowed funnel of dissemination. Accuracy is accuracy, expertise is expertise and truth is ultimately truth regardless of whether the source is a newspaper such as the New York Times or a citizen journalist.

This is the standard by which experience, reliability and professionalism has and will always be judged.

I would suggest that you check out David Cushman’s work to fully apprise yourself of the difference between traditional broadcasting, and the cross pollination that takes place on a one-to-one basis within the realms of social media to really understand why readership levels for newspapers are dropping.

You of course have the freedom to choose your sources of information but, it is a mistake to equate professionalism with tradition, and accountability with institution.


We have an impasse. Newspapers are suffering because people can get them on-line free. Interviewing people is a small part of journalism. The real journalists spend weeks talking to sources , getting confidential documents nd then armed with that conducting an interview.Anybody can ask questions but not anybody can ask the right questions. The Mai Lai massacre wasn’t uncovered ib Vietnam but in Washington when Seymour Hersh started examining an incident he read about.There are lots of great journalists on the internet but they are professionals working for on-line newspapers or on-line magazines. I don’t doubt that there maybe a few great citizen journalists. Look the left wing I.F> Stone ran his own newspaper to counter the whitewashing that was done in newspapers. Newspapers have made terrible errors .No question but so have doctors lawyers, etc. Why don’t you read up on the prostate and become a citizen urologist, I could send you digital x-rays. And we could compare your findings to a trained urologist.

Gavin Bryan-Tansley

I took part in a web-cast Local TV experiment last year, the whole thing failed and continues to fail because of one simple criteria. Nobody cared what the locals wanted to see. They were to busy making ‘television’ to bother with asking the public what they want. Local TV must be community driven.

Jon W. Hansen

I could not have said it any better Gavin . . . this is the one-to-one basis of community-driven interest in which there is a connection with people, by people. Not broadcast media or “professional journalist.”

Or to put it simply, it doesn’t matter what “credentials” you boast if no one is reading, listening or viewing . . .


Only pandering to the public taste and appetite for sex scandals, car crashes and crime has been the local television diet for years.And if that is the content that they want that’s what they will look for from citizen journalists .Oh I forgot tornadoes. Dumbing down the news has been a curse for a long time.Covering the above stories is easy just get a camera to the scene and shoot it and run a banal commentary and broadcast it. Now to uncover corruption on city hall takes time and effort and you are actually doing the public a service. Finding cops who steal and sell drugs takes a pro who knows how to deal with the people. Finding why an apartment burned down or why a bridge collapsed demand digging and attention to detail. And if journalists fail to do that well so much worse the society.

Gavin Bryan-Tansley

But that is just my point, you talk about ‘pandering to the public’ and what ‘a journalist should do’. Ask, and you will find that very few people actual want to hear about celebrity scandals and car crashes? Fewer want to know why things fall down.

What they do want to know is what are our politicians doing with our money, why ‘this decision’ was made when there was so much local opposition? If it fell down what is being done to make sure it will not happen again! Why heads do not roll, why are politicians and civil servants immune from blame. In this traditional journalism has let them down, by suppressing public opinion in favour of editorial opinion, soft peddling on political sandal in favour of salacious celebrity scandal.

The public do not want professional journalists talking down to them, telling them what to think. This is why so many television, radio and newspaper websites are failing. Once they had a captive audience now they are finding that the public can and do vote with their feet. The world is changing rapidly the media industry has to adapt or die.

Jon W. Hansen

Once again Alan, your passion is notable but ultimately misguided if it is your intended suggestion that the public taste is only limited to the areas you have identified. Even more so if you are suggesting that this is the venue through which citizen journalists exclusively hone their craft.

Certainly there is a fair amount of appetite for the more salacious happenings in our world . . . which does seem to be within the makeup of human nature. This is probably why CNN for example spent so much time on the details surrounding the albeit tragic death of an Anna Nicole Smith or the Paris Hilton incarceration.

However, and as stated earlier, traditional media is suffering not because they have refrained from covering that which you have identified as being solely within the realm of citizen journalism – which of course it isn’t. The problems are deeply rooted in the traditional media’s attitudes, which was reflected in my analogy regarding the National and American Football Leagues in my August 28th post “The American Football League, American Basketball Association and Blog Talk Radio?” ( https://piwindowonbusiness.wordpress.com/2009/08/28/the-american-football-league-american-basketball-association-and-blog-talk-radio/ ).

Elitism and even perhaps arrogance with the kind of disdain you demonstrate for “public taste” is ultimately the issue as there is a kind of “unwashed masses” sub-context underlying your response.

Jon W. Hansen

Once again, Gavin. You hit the proverbial nail on the head!


The old don’t attack the ideas attack the person gambit. I am an elitist thereforewhatever I say is tainted. That at least is the subtext of your comments.I don’t doubt the sincerity or nobility of citizen journalism.Your unbridled populism that people are interested in serious matters and weigh matters carefully is laudable. But if you look at the history of all journalism. It began with story tellers who gave eyewitness accounts of events and often embroidered the story. But if you look at it from a psychological perspective people watch or read the news for two reasons. One they see gloom or doom and find that as humdrum s their life might be they are lucky because there are people who are far worse off.

When a child gets killed in a car accident the parents hug their own children and are so grateful.It is very similar to Indy racing or downhill skiing. I have interviewed them and done a documentary as well. The skier will say the public watches to see if they will fall. Now I don’t mean to say that their is a blood lust in those fans. But skiers and car racers know that the public likes crashes. That is not elitist that is a fact and when a crash happens the public wants to see it a hundred times. Even though they genuinely feel bad and even horrified if there is a massive injury or death. A great journalist giant once said if you and your family went on a car trip and watched a twelve car collision the kids will tell their friends that before they say how great Disney World was. When you are driving down a freeway and suddenly the traffic slows up it because the drivers slow down to see how bad the accident was.

And if I was a news director who’s livelihood depended upon ratings if I had my own interest at heart I would lead with that And I am no better than many citizens. I admit I have slowed down to see an accident. It is the dark part of human nature. But understanding that I do it I identify why others do it. So as an editor if it was just an accident.If there was no public good that could come out of running the story example ,the cities snow removal is lax, the speed limit in school zones is still too high then I would not run it. Or maybe I would bunch them at the end and say for those who like murders and accidents here is your 90 seconds because there was nothing to learn about these particular accidents that would help the common good and

Jon W. Hansen

Reading what you have just written Alan, it immediately brought to mind Act III, Scene II from Hamlet, and in particular “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” (although the more current day or popular version is “Me thinks thou doth protest too much?”).

I of course do not know you personally and therefore cannot attack you. However, if you reread what I have written, it is the ideas you present upon which I am focused.

In one instance you bemoan the fact that “pandering to the public taste and appetite for sex scandals, car crashes and crime has been the local television diet for years. And if that is the content that they want that’s what they will look for from citizen journalists.” Yet with your latest response, and through indirect suggestion that only professional journalists (or editors) would have the wherewithal or acumen needed to dig for the deeper meaning that justifies the publication of the referenced accident you are, whether intended or not suggesting that this “filtering” capability can only be found in the “pedigree” of the professional journalist.

Who therefore is the one that is really attacking the person or persons (re all citizen journalists) versus the idea?!

For one who made the statement that “Everybody can be a citizen opinion writer, but that isn’t journalism,” all you have offered is opinion mixed with examples that actually references traditional journalistic practices (re local television pandering to the public taste).

What you haven’t done including your skirting the issue relative to the links I have provided, is present any substantive data or references to support your stated position. In short, I know what you think, but I don’t know why?

Knowing why, is at the heart of journalistic integrity. This means that I could not use your information beyond an anecdotal reference of elitism.


I am not writing a PHd thesis with footnotes and a bibliography. Of course what I am writing is opinion. It is an analysis. Just like you would find in any op-ed column. It is like asking me to provide proof that an oncologist who was trained at a medical school is better than one who who is not trained. In legal terms a judge would give far more weight to the testimony of an oncologist than a self trained citizen doctor. In Canada a citizen journalist was recognized for getting dramatic footage of police tasering a helpless foreign national who was exhausted and tired. That footage helped get the Taser laws changed. But although he provided the footage and without him the police would have been whitewashed of any malfeasance. It was the mainstream journalists who looked into how police are trained with tasers, how the all the police told the exact same stories of what happened which was suspicious.They talked to politicians , looked at the taser handbook and proved that the police were too trigger happy.

Now at a function of professional journalists the citizen who was brave enough to take the video was given a special award and he was give a standing ovation by the most respected journalists in our country. But he was so impressed with the power of journalism that he decided that he wants proper training and become more than somebody who put his camera on. So instead of becoming a citizen journalist he decided he wanted to learn how to become part of this noble profession.I go to a professionally trained doctor .I go to a professionally trained architect , lawyer etc. And I read stories from professional journalists Now as a documentary journalist I have a website http://www.docsonadime.com

There may be a handful of brilliant citizen journalists that could do better than me.But I would wipe the floor with most citizen journalists. Unlike the citizen journalist I referred to who took that amazing video who wants to put in the time to learn the craft and the profession other citizen journalists are so arrogant , self absorbed and lazy that they don’t think they can learn anything from experienced journalists who teach at journalism school. By the way getting into journalism schools can be pretty tough and there are huge waiting lists so I guess the young generation hasn’t bought your viewpoint. And you know what I think there will be more journalism school opening up. I haven’t heard of any closing.And you see there will be a cadre of trained journalists who will be on the web and be familiar with the latest technology that they will clean the clock of the untrained citizen journalist.

Jon W. Hansen

Clean clocks? Alan, one does not have to write a thesis to substantiate a position. Nor is this a “us versus them” scenario. Newspapers are dying, local television is in trouble. These are facts. Holding on to these vestiges of artificially narrowed and tightly controlled channels of information dissemination is why traditional journalism is in trouble.

As for self absorbed arrogance, I think that these traits are not limited to one particular group. I can only speak on my behalf but, I believe that you can learn something from anyone if you are open to it. Certainly I have been called upon and interviewed by both national newspapers and even the CBC on a regular basis because of my research and area of expertise. I seriously doubt that I would be an effective source if I broadly applied your sentiments to any one group, or any particular situation.

As for journalism schools, they may very well become the point of convergence in the new reality of social media. A bringing together if you will, of the best of both traditional and citizen journalism, much like the merger of the NFL and AFL leagues I had referenced in my August 28th article.

In that instance there was a necessary meeting of the minds that brought together the best of both leagues. Or as I wrote, “the “merger” of the two leagues and their corresponding styles and attitudes nearly 40 years ago has led to a “product” that has a global reach and influence which I can say with some confidence far exceeded the humble expectations of even the eternally optimistic, balloon loving Pete Rozelle.”

This would not have happened if “cleaning clocks” was the primary focus, or for that matter one “wiping the floor” with the other had been the prevalent attitude. In short, your stated position, which by and large still lacks any substantive references to support your assertions only serves to polarize rather than transform a profession that is in the midst of a major paradigm shift.


I knew that wipe the floor and clean the clock would get to you. I am quite mischievous. Is there a place for citizen journalism. The answer is yes. Should it replace professional journalism no. Should local news be in sole hands of citizen journalists no. If a citizen journalist said he has this great story would I collaborate with him .Of course. Now the AFL and the NFL is not the right analogy because they were two organizations playing the same game. And it made economic sense to make a super league rather than cut each other’s throats. As I pointed out it was the professional journalists who honored the citizen journalist for his bravery and quest for the truth. We know video cameras in the hands of the person on the street is great .Rodney King comes to mind.And so many times these roving reporters have caught policemen clubbing innocent people. And the camera is the proof. I think it is a fantastic check on power that ordinary people are filming events.


Now I have not yet responded to the last comment from Mr. Mendelsohn (although I do with raised eyebrows note his NFL-AFL comment), as I thought that I would give you the reader the last word because after all it is the most important word.

I would also recommend that you check out the Celebritize Yourself! Group on the LinkedIn social network.  Marsha Friedman, who has been a guest on the PI Window on Business Show, and someone to which I have referred to as a “PR Genius” with a reputation for expertise and integrity.  This of course is a group based on her critically acclaimed book of the same name.

Marsha’s Latest Book:

Are You Ready To Stand Up and Stand Out!

Are You Ready To Stand Up and Stand Out!

During these tough economic times, even the savviest business person is looking for unique and cost effective ways of increasing not only their business’s profile, but their own profile as well. While some turn to advertising, more and more people are reaping the benefits of The Marsha Friedman Celebritize Yourself Method™.

As the CEO of the national public relations and advertising firm EMS Incorporated, Marsha has 20 years of experience in helping her clients to “Celebritize” themselves by harnessing the power of the media. Whether it is talk radio, television, newspapers, magazines or online…Marsha knows how to get the attention of even the most inundated producer or journalist.

Comments are closed.

  • Books Written by Jon Hansen

%d bloggers like this: