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Whither the citizen war reporter?

Evegeny Morozov, has an interesting piece in Open Democracy looking at the role of citizen journalists in conflict (specifically Georgia). He argues that citizen journalists are not the magic bullet that they’ve been trumped up to be as far as covering news in underreported conflict areas.

While he does have some valid points, I think he is extrapolating too much from the Georgian conflict and being a bit too harsh.

Yes, citizen journalists will never meet the standards of a professional war reporter but the fact is foreign news (and bureaus for that matter) is no longer a priority for media organizations with the capacity to hire professional war reporters and better some (albeit unprofessional) news rather than no news at all.

Yes, there is the risk of bias, jingoism, propaganda etc. as we are seeing in the Georgian conflict but based on my experience during the post-election violence in Kenya the professional media organizations – both local and international – had issues with bias (when they did try and report), were way off the mark as well, offered little nuance and investigative reporting, and pretty much dropped the ball. The only media organization that stood out for me was Al-Jazeera. Just because an organization is professional – doesn’t mean it is above bias – even CNN and the BBC will put a spin to it…although you might have less a concern about doctored images and false stats.

I get his point that we should not treat citizen journalism as a panacea for the challenges that are besetting traditional media, but I do think he is underestimating the ability of news consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff (hello Fox News!) as far as citizen journalists…at some point is becomes pretty apparent who is doing reliable reporting and who is being a mouth piece and blogging crap…I think at that stage it is up to the news consumer to make their individual judgments. I can live with that rather than a complete news blackout…especially in a conflict zone.

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