Monday, January 17, 2005

Citizens Journalism or Mob Advocacy?

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.


Anonymous said...

I wish that I had more time to address your post but as you know we're launching today. Your concerns about bias are right on the money. Without editorial review we would have turned into or 5 minutes ago. We anticipated this, planned for it, and time will tell if the model works.

I think that a lot of folks will submit their hit pieces and move on when they realize that they're not being published. That's fine.

Our submission guidelines page touches on this subject and will likely evolve somewhat as we see what people throw at us. We're striving to make it clear that:

" is a participatory site designed to serve as a one-stop resource for legitimate news from myriad sources. Unlike many “alternative” media sources, TBTN is a new-media alternative that will strive to separate real news from propaganda and publish the best content available.

TBTN editors will review all editorial submissions for purposes of appropriateness and clarity before publishing content online. Editors reserve the right to reject submissions for any purpose."

I have more to say on the subject but it is a very busy day. Thanks for the thoughtful feedback.

- John Little

Anonymous said...

Timothy -- I'm watching this whole phenomenon unfold -- and participating as well, largely at DailyKos, but also at a project yet to launch called COIR, Center for Online Investigative Research.

I however am very concerned about the lack of coordination and alignment with so many of these great efforts -- from monitoring groups like Media Matters and Mediachannel and CJR, and Pressthink from Jay Rosen, to Action Alert groups like Rapid Response Network, community action groups like DailyKos, DFA, MoveOn etc.

One of the worst achilles heels of the left is its utter lack of awareness of who's doing what. I'm working on remedying that with several projects, one is a grassroots Think Tank ( coupled with a progressive portal site (initially sketched out about 6 months ago at -- but not ready for primetime -- it's a total throw-together job for now, but will be designed like the portal I built for the Dean Grassroots movement called .

So I am hoping we can all work in more alliance fashion and not be a loose collective of one-offs -- which drives me crazy.

I had a nice email exchange with Rory today -- but didn't get a chance to ask: who's doing what, now? How does your role relate to Danny Schecter's, for example?

Richard Hoefer
rh at deanport dotcom