One of the things the Missouri School of Journalism teaches its students is the importance of transparency. With more people engaging in the process of journalism (and it is a process, not a product), transparency is necessary to encourage well-informed participation. If journalism’s end goal is to inform, the collective knowledge and intelligence of professional journalists and civilian contributors can ultimately lead to more people being well-informed.
The Columbia Missourian has embraced this philosophy. The Web-first and Monday-through-Friday print publication is “a community news organization directed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.” ColumbiaMissourian.com is their primary news site, but MyMissourian.com allows readers to become writers. According to the Missouri School of Journalism website, it was the second citizen journalism website in the country, and the best pieces are published in the daily print edition of the Missourian.
Tom Warhover, the executive editor of the Missourian, published a Dear Reader editorial this morning (Saturday, Feb. 23) sharing the collaboration between Missourians and the public in covering the snow storm that hit Columbia Thursday, Feb. 21. Warhover discloses the use of Google Maps apps, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and RebelMouse, an app that organizes text and photos in an easy-to-read format. He describes how Missourians tackled issues with website stalling, being trapped at home and encouraging citizens to join the conversation. The process of covering the storm is fleshed out, both in this article and on a Social Snow page that allowed Columbians to share weather-related posts Feb. 20-22, 2013.
The idea of citizen journalism can scare professional journalists and journalism students. If anyone can do our job, won’t we be out of one?
The way I see it, journalism students and professionals are trained to analyze and filter through the mass of information. We spend years honing the craft of storytelling in all its forms. We are taught to question, investigate and verify for ourselves. We learn to discern what is quality, authentic, reliable knowledge and what is not.
Those skills set us apart from citizen journalists. But ignoring or underestimating their contribution would be the biggest mistake a contemporary journalist could make. If our job is to serve the public, informing them so they can make educated decisions, we cannot not set ourselves above them. We must work side-by-side to piece together the most accurate, comprehensive picture of the world around us that we can.
Media transparency inspires extra eyes and ears around the world to enrich the dialogue. I challenge you to share the journalistic process. Show people what you do, how you do it and invite participation. Citizen journalists can be an asset, helping you do your job better: take advantage.