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Citizen journalism: The face of new media?

Ashley Dickson
Summit Daily Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Eric Drummond/Summit Daily Jon Ginsberg takes a picture of the Susan Badger cabin Wednesday as it was being prepared to be lifted by a crane to a permanent foundation in Frisco. Technology such as cell phone cameras are changing the classic definition of a journalist.
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SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado ” In the past, there has always been a well-defined line between the people that report the news and the people who “get reported to.”

But advancements in digital technology and the internet show almost anyone can play reporter for a day ” if they have the right tools.

Citizen journalism is quickly redefining how information is conveyed to the masses and both reporters and public information officers are learning new ways to adapt to the growing trend.

“Citizen journalism is changing how we do things,” said Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue public information officer Brandon Williams.

“It’s helpful because it enables different viewpoints but we have to be careful because all the information we receive from the public is highly scrutinized.”

Williams knows firsthand how new technology trends are changing the way people get the news.

Last summer at the Sierra Bosque wildfire outside of Silverthorne, Williams was able to type up a press release, take pictures and e-mail the media, all from his phone.

“Managing an emergency scene has become a lot different since camera phones,” said Williams.

“We have to be aware of the fact that anyone on the scene can be taking picture or videos.

We have to manage how close people get, what they see, and try to manage all the different view points.”

The wave of the future

Camera phones with Internet capabilities are quickly changing the manner in which people receive and process the news.

A relatively new technology, camera phones have already proven their worth within the news business, and media conglomerates like CNN even introduced an I-Reports section on its website for user-submitted material.

Since its start in 2006, I-Reports have become an integral component of CNN’s coverage, providing some of the first nationally broadcasted images of the Minnesota bridge collapse and the Virginia Tech school shooting.

“It’s amazing where technology has taken us and now information is available online before press releases are even written,” said Paulette Horr, public information officer at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

“The only problem is that if someone gets the information wrong right off the bat, then everybody gets it wrong,” Horr added.

Establishing truth and accuracy is a very large factor in citizen journalism, seeing there is no managing control over the content being uploaded on the Internet.

A double-edged sword

Many in the newspaper industry view citizen journalism as a double-edged sword. On the one hand it diversifies the amount of information available to the masses but, on the other hand, it doesn’t always adhere to the traditional goal of objectivity.

“When people post on blogs or websites they are often presenting information as news when it is really commentary and opinion,” said Ed Otte, executive director of the Colorado Press Association.

“It all comes down to the consumer and whether they chose to believe a certain source is credible, fair, and balanced.”

Unlike trained reporters, citizen journalists aren’t forced to exercise accuracy and fairness in their writing, making citizen generated news sites less credible than those established media outlets.

Yet, they are popping up everywhere.

“One of the great advantages of the web is that you don’t have to think about things like distributions costs and space,” said Otte.

“It’s a great technology but it’s nothing more than a fad because people don’t know how to really use it effectively yet.”

While it is safe to say that citizen journalism wont be replacing tradition mass media anytime soon, the movement has begun.

While it may have seemed a far fetched notion 10 years ago, the next big story may just come from a 15-year-old who happened to be in the right place, at the right time, with a camera phone.

Ashley Dickson can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at adickson@summitdaily.com.


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