Monday, March 13, 2006

Malaysia: The Agony and the Ecstasy of Citizen Journalism

Hat-tip to Jeff Ooi of Screenshots for his post on citizen journalism on Malaysia. In a way, this story epitomizes what I love about citizen journalism and what can be incredibly frustrating about it.

According to Jeff, Malaysian bloggers felt that a protest last Friday against a hike in fuel prices would not be covered by the MSM (mainstream media), so they decided to cover it themselves on their blogs. myAsylum does a particularly nice job. The post includes a description of what the blogger saw and some pictures. Paul Ooi also has a descriptive article and photos, including some nice scary ones of the riot police. However, the best photos are at Shagadelica. (They are truly artful; it is the source of the photo I published in this post.)

Citizens taking to the streets to cover what the MSM will not - sounds great, right? So, what am I complaining about? Well, there is some really important information missing from these accounts. Not because of any ill-will or intention to mislead, but simply because the the bloggers didn't know. First, why are the fuel prices being hiked? Was it a reaction to market forces, increases in the global price of oil simply being passed along to the consumer, or was this a voluntary action by the government, a means of collecting extra revenue? Also, it would have been nice to have some background. How frequently do these types of protests occur? What is the usual government reaction?

I realize that this type of contextual information is usually collected by professional journalists, people with the time and training necessary to make phone calls and do interviews to collect facts and with the credentials necessary to gain access to such information. However, when the very purpose of citizen journalism is to fill a gap in news coverage created by the MSM, the MSM is not available to provide this background.

I would like to see citizen journalists become a little more ambitious in their reporting. If the MSM isn't covering a story at all, then you need to go that extra mile to create the analysis and context that make a news story meaningful. The more professional citizen journalists become in their standards, the greater their audience they will become and the greater their influence will be on the MSM. The role of citizen journalists in countries with limited press freedom is not to take on the responsibilities of the MSM to inform the public. The job of citizen journalists is to force the MSM to do theirs.

categories: citizen journalism_

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