The latest contender in the debate over citizens journalism, Take Back the News, goes one further by actually launching a website that puts to the test the ongoing, and frequently ponderous, speculation over participatory journalism. Calling itself a news sharing community, Take Back the News allows citizen members to act as editors, reporters commentators and editorialists by posting news items for others to rate and respond to.
But to be successful, the “news sharing community” needs a critical mass of citizens sharing news. I wish them luck, but past experience has shown that it’s difficult to engage a broad community in an effort to objectively cover the world. Many have tried; most have failed. Two recent instances -- the grassroots investigation of the authenticity of the “60 Minutes II” memos on Bush’s military service and the online information mobilization in response to Sinclair Broadcasting’s plan to air a blatantly anti-Kerry documentary prior to the election -- were driven not by a desire to get at the truth of the story but by partisan zeal to get back at the opposition.
If scoring political points is the sole motivation of such participatory news communities, then citizen journalism is nothing more than mob advocacy. Perhaps this latest initiative will break that mold.