The Walrus Blog

So-called citizen journalists broke The Miracle on the Hudson aka Canadian Geese: Terror In The Skies! on Twitter. A Floridian on one of the tour boats posted the first picture of the rescue. It was a crappy picture and he was more excited about being able to be a journalist on his iphone than communicating important details. To quote jkrums: “Crazy.”

I am not inured to the exuberance epidemic sweeping popular culture about social media. This week Hoda and Kathy Lee got on Facebook and are beside themselves about it. If you pitch investors and drop the Twitter-bomb the economic depression we’re in get’s blown to bits and money rains down. But does socializing media and creating a different way to communicate that is more immediate make all of us in the world into citizen journalists?

Calling twitterers journalists is the usual boogeyman for paid journalists. Understandable because as our print news goes out of print and careers are lost the final hurrah of old-fashioned journalists will be bloody and moaning. But I’ll call anyone a journalist. Even my dog.

It is the word citizen that scares me. It implies an easy generalizability that isn’t true. A citizen of Canada is not the same as a citizen of Rwanda, for example. Our solipsism has nestled into our new communication technologies. Twitter might be a useful tool – if you have an iphone! It is, by no means, even something all the citizens of Canada have access to. Age, race, cultural capital and class complicate easy notions of citizen journalism. There are people who are not and may never be citizen journalists because of accident of birth and class. Our history of speaking in universal terms and projecting our privileged experiences outwards means that the problem with citizen journalism never get the thorough raking over that it deserves. Instead it has become an issue of professionalism versus democracy, entirely oblivious to the class and privilege issues.

Iphone journalism is more apt. Or even privileged citizen journalism. Maybe get specific like MBA-white-guy journalist. I could get behind any of these. But “citizen journalist” holds false promise and a cruel and selfish optimism that works better for Web2.0 marketers and self-proclaimed experts than for a self-reflexive white girl iphone journalist like me.

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  • Murray

    great rant! the privileged are very unlikely to see the world without distortion entailed by their privilege.

    (i know that’s true… when i was temporarily unable to walk after a car accident a few years ago, i understood for the first time what being in a wheelchair, or using a walker, or leaning on crutches is like. i promised myself at the time to remember that perspective… but i’ve been unable to, really. since then, i don’t believe that, e.g., an iphone owner can really understand a homeless person’s experience.)

    thanks for the reminder that “citizenship” is not to be confused with privilege. your post reminds me of the value of the charity, which i haven’t donated to, come to think of it, for years.

  • Chantelle Oliver

    Thanks for your bravery Murray!!

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