Although written four years ago, my senior project keeps coming back. As part of the graduation requirements for the now transformed (some would say demoted) School of Interdisciplinary Studies – Western College Program at Miami University, seniors were required to synthesize four years of self-directed coursework into either a 40-page paper with a creative component or 80-page analytical work. At its completion, we had to defend it to a panel of faculty from across the university.
I focused my thesis on participatory journalism (one form of which is citizen journalism), which was on my horizon as a journalist in training. Lo and behold, not only did I end up in the field of my major, I have pursued a career so far in exploring forms of participatory media as part of Portland Community Media, The Rapidian and other sideline pursuits.
It’s often the analytical paper that I highlight, but the creative portion was more prescient than I could have realized. Although my site visits did not result in journalistic articles, the research and synthesis to extract something for a broader audience informed my belief in what I term the “media ecosystem.” In other words, that a media ecosystem is not only formal journalistic outlets providing information (however that might look) but also public access television, digital storytelling, low-power FM, Indy Media, etc. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve encountered much more and added to that collection: open-source technology, role playing games, graffiti, experiential art, community microgrants… the list is infinite. All of these are part of a diverse and vibrant media ecosystem and can borrow elements to create stronger, more approachable ways for people to connect to information and to one another.
ABSTRACT - PARTICIPATORY JOURNALISM: DEMOCRATIZING THE MEDIASCAPE (Analytical)
This project examines why traditional journalism has been so obdurate toward the rise of participatory journalism. Participatory journalism, also known as citizen’s or grassroots journalism, is a movement that empowers the people to self-publish and report the news. It is a reaction to the reporting style or under-representation in traditional journalism’s coverage. In many ways, participatory journalism can offer a more democratic and creative approach toward information exchange and evoke civic ownership in events affecting individuals and communities.
Journalism in the United States tends to follow a unifying mission: to provide a citizenry with the information it needs to be free and self-governing. This is a two-pronged process that first requires information to be gathered and then for that information to be turned into actionable knowledge. Traditional journalism has changed throughout history and has, at times, been open to less “objective” forms of writing such as advocacy and opinion. However, traditional journalism—partially to conform to mass marketing in a commercial society—has consistently portrayed itself as more authoritative and correct than other forms of journalism.
Evaluating the history of traditional journalism reveals that American journalism has always been in flux and at times, been more inclusive in approaches such as advocacy and opinion than traditional journalism currently is. In order to maintain itself as a marketable product, traditional journalism has also set up binary oppositions to other forms of journalism.
Traditional journalism’s approach has become stale. While it may still report the news, it no longer incites action. The advent of self-publishing tools on the Internet and the communities that have sprung up around them present traditional journalism with a conundrum that is redefining how professional reporters regard their roles and the way journalism should be performed in service to democracy. Through the evaluation of traditional journalism’s purpose, history, values and reaction to participatory journalism, two points become clear:
- Short-term: If traditional journalism does not incorporate aspects of participatory journalism, it will soon lose touch with the public that it purports to serve.
- Long-term: Due to various factors, traditional journalism has become resistant to change in a way that is disadvantageous to fulfilling its public mission.
[INTRO EXCERPT] EXPLORING THE MEDIASCAPE (Creative): Site visits and interviews with low power FM stations, Indy Media and digital storytelling outfits
While the analytical portion of the senior project examined Internet participatory journalism, the creative portion sought to explore the vast participatory mediascape, which has existed long before the advent of the World Wide Web.
There were complications though, and many story ideas fell through, a risk generally amplified in a self-directed embarkment. Ultimately, I was left with clumps of interviews, random to any narrative but a personal one. Although they could not be synthesized into a coherent, third-person story, the interviews and research I collected sharpened my understanding of the field and its issues.
There is little conversion from information to knowledge. Participatory media is way ahead in fulfilling the purpose of journalism.
However, it comes full circle that journalism is a conversation and a reflection of the times. The purpose of journalism is two-fold: to disseminate information and to engage the public with that information … journalism must first meet the public where it is.