Bloggers and Citizen Journalists Should Adhere to the same Standards as Journalists for the Sake of Mainstream Media Credibility. With the negative association mainstream media has, bloggers and/or citizen journalists should gravitate towards the same ethical guidelines and fact checking processes that journalists must adhere to ensure reliable media trustworthiness. The modern day blogosphere and independent media sites produce an excess of various information distributed by independent sources or mainstream media companies that are open to all consumers—both for entertainment and news. A range of material is published to these online sites: entertainment, politics, technology, personal information, and even self-gathered and reported news called citizen journalism. A study done by the Pew Research Center conducted an analysis study stating that 59% of Americans now get their news through online media sites (Mitchell et al), presenting readers with a serious problem. With the information through independent blogs and citizen journalism websites often conducted by non-professional reporters, the amount of false, biased, discourteous and sloppy reporting method is often seen as a result. This gives a negative association to the media in general, even though both citizen journalists and bloggers often have no affiliation with news companies or genuine mainstream media outlets. The independent users are free to contribute information they please on these personal blogs and websites. Bloggers and/or citizen journalists should be following the same ethical guidelines that journalists must adhere to for the sake of mainstream media credibility.
Understanding the concept of what citizen journalists are, what they do, and where their information is published is essential to grasp in order to understand the problem of unreliable news. Citizen journalism is defined as “the collection, dissemination, and analysis of news and information by the general public, especially by means of the Internet” (Oxford Dictionary). The general public may include anyone. But citizen journalists differ slightly from bloggers. Citizen journalism roughly gains the title of “journalism” because the interviewing, editing, and online publishing process somewhat mirrors that of official journalism. One example is Global Voices Online. This site gains a loose title of “journalism” because it adheres to Associated Press formatting style and loosely fact checks its information through verifying primary sources and sometimes interviews. It generates its own stories and newsgathering process on a global level, allowing the publication from writers not affiliated with the press (Global Voices Online). But it does not identify with official journalism mainstream media and newspapers, such the “Huffington Post” and “Politico”. Another example of citizen journalism is CNN’s iReport. This site, however, is a forum that does not fact check or edit any of its information (iReport). Its user generated content is openly published by anyone who signs up to contribute, creating the possibility for false or biased information, but allows for all voices to be heard.
Blogging, on the other hand, is expressed as “a regular feature appearing as part of an online publication that typically relates to a particular topic and consists of articles and personal commentary by one or more authors” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). The forum of bloggers’ work are commonly produced via the blogosphere, the realm of personal websites for widespread use. The blogosphere contains personal sites that give the user the ability to produce, share, and link to various other sites. A large percent of blogs contributes largely towards personal entertainment predominantly in music and fashion categories (Adams). Blogspot is an example of a free site that allows users to personalize, share, and include any sort of information, slightly resembling social media. The two titles of bloggers and citizen journalists can sometimes be interchangeable—both publishing self derived information and links to other media sites concerning what topics they emphasize in. While blogging serves as more personal means of generating and sharing information, citizen journalism often resembles official journalism more than blogs do. But citizen journalists can often be affiliated with popular news sites that many consumers use, while blogs mainly exist for entertainment and opinionated content.
Since more than half of American citizens obtain their news via online media websites, having a sound trust in unbiased and truthful media is important. The large mainstream medias like New York Times and The Washington Post employ official journalists, fact checkers, and various editors to ensure that no incorrect news reaches their readers. Although citizen journalism affiliations might also have these jobs of sorts, New York Times would be considered the more reliable form of media in comparison with an unaffiliated site. In addition, the thousands of blogging and citizen journalism sites on the internet leave consumers to hunt down for reliable news and choose which ones to believe; “the only real problem with citizen journalism [and blogs] is that it gets more difficult for all of us to decide what to believe” (Porter). But many news consumers think that the prominent mainstream media forums are heavily biased too. A study done by Pew Research center shoes that CNN tends to be consistently liberal and achieve an overall viewing of 44% of Americans, while others like Fox News maintains a consistently conservative interpretation with 39% of consumers following (Pew Research Center). Despite the political bias and slant mainstream media sometimes displays, the essential take home message is obtaining hard facts and conducting self research. Whether they are obtained through citizen journalism media, a blog, or mainstream media, the details remain to be interpreted by the consumers to formulate their own stance.
The statistical credibility between journalists versus citizen journalists and bloggers show both ends of the news credibility spectrum. Many readers follow these popular sites to get their news or updates from them, likely to find news not credible on many domains. Some consumers feel that, “blogs and other citizen journalism endeavors are seen as less credible than traditional news materials, especially when the audience is asked to contrast their fairness, believability, and overall quality” while others believe, “citizen journalism and professional journalism is nearly the same” (de Zuniga et al). The varying consumer opinions of citizen journalism gives tangible meaning to the varied effect of the media’s reliability. Pros and cons of opinionated sites and not opinionated sites exist for both. Readers are torn between the official and unofficial. This is something that influences the broadly negative opinion of media outlets. Another statistical study completed states that, “42.1 percent of the citizen journalism articles included opinion material” (Fico et al). Although opinion material exists for valuable discussions, it cannot be trusted reliably for hard news, especially politics. The main conclusion with the varied data is that user generated news media depends on the reader. Whether or not the reader desires to pursue the truth in that content is a personal decision, presenting the dilemma of believability and reliability upon him/her.
In conclusion, blogs and independent journalism sites need to adhere to a more official and structured form of media. By having news blogs exist as predominantly opinion based sites and constructing citizen journalists more scrupulously to follow a concise journalistic method, all voices can be heard while factual information can still be presented. Although many blogs purely exist to convey personal opinions and interpretations, they should seldom be relied upon for hard news, mainly personal interpretations. The decreased amount of incorrect or highly opinioned news that is available for all readers would help increase the public’s trust in all media. Consumers also should take measures upon themselves to follow official mainstream media companies that provide impartial facts on the whole. Balancing between opinion and fact is important as a reader and consumer of news. If the need to verify facts or obtain a broader explanation of information arises, they would have the mainstream media for that purpose of self interpretation. If news blogs and citizen journalism sites followed either the same or similarly thorough process of gathering and producing news, the trust in mainstream media would increase—producing more well educated American citizens on factual up-to-date information. Media critic and New York University professor Jay Rosen quoted Mitch Ratcliff stating, “the point of innovation in media is to expand, not simply to displace, the voices that existed before” (Ratcliff). Leveling the amount of variant news intake allows the public to leave room for interpretation of solid facts and known opinionated media. It has the power to enable a trusting relationship between the consumer and mainstream media.
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