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Thirteen Questions About the Future of Participatory Journalism

At this year’s Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications conference I moderated a panel on legal, educational and practical debates about participatory journalism and citizen reporting. I had the good fortune to be joined by a terrific group of scholars and activists: Amanda Hickman of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Lisa Lynch of Concordia University, Madeleine Bair of Witness.org and Morgan Weiland of Stanford University.

I posted a preview of the discussion before the panel. But the panel itself was a lively and engaged debate where a number of important new issues were debated. Below are recordings of the panel’s opening remarks. You can listen to the entire half hour on Soundcloud, but below I’ve split it up into short three and four minute clips, highlighting a few key themes that emerged.

Morgan Weiland

Morgan Weiland of Stanford started the panel by outlining the key legal debates currently underway which have a bearing on the future of participatory journalism. She began by outlining how the current version of the journalist’s Shield Law, while much improved, still includes troubling language which could exclude citizen journalists.

She then went on to describe why net neutrality and internet freedom more generally are such a critical issues for participatory journalism. She argues that a web without net neutrality puts marginalized voices and independent journalists at risk.

Weiland then argues that journalism educators need to be engaged with these policy issues. Journalism schools should be a place where students and faculty imagine, debate and defend the law, not as it is, but as it should be.

Madeleine Bair

Madeleine Bair, of WITNESS.org, asks if it is even still useful to think about participatory journalism as something separate from other forms of journalism. Drawing on a number of domestic and international cases Bair illustrates how pervasive citizen journalism is, while at the same time it continues to be held at arms length by so many newsrooms.

Bair goes on to talk specifically about how participatory journalism has become a critical part of human rights work around the world, and how the issues that human rights activists are grappling with mirror debates in newsrooms.

Finally, Bair offers advice for journalism schools based on her own experience as a journalism student now working in human rights and citizen media.

Lisa Lynch

Lisa Lynch of Concordia University described how citizen and participatory journalism has been understood in the Canadian context, with a special focus on the website NowPublic as an origin story for participatory journalism on a global scale. She highlights how, as participatory journalism becomes more expansively used by newsrooms there arises a recurring tension between the civic and financial aspects of citizens reporting on their communities.

Lynch then talked about two protests in Canada where citizen journalists were attacked by police, which launched a debate in the industry about who is a journalist. In Quebec, the Society of Professional Journalists suggested a licensing process for journalists.

Finally, Lynch describes how the media literacy curriculum in Canada talks about the need for participatory journalism in the context of media diversity.

Amanda Hickman

Amanda Hickman of the CUNY graduate school of journalism began by talking about a new participatory journalism project and new journalism degree program in “social journalism.”

And in the context of these programs Hickman talked about what we expect from our communities and how to invite them in as participants whiling honoring the labor they put into helping us. What do we owe the participants of participatory journalism, and how do we understand the power dynamics when journalists work in communities? She also talked about Chalkbeat’s reader read around events as creating meaningful feedback loops for participatory journalism.

Finally, Hickman said that participatory journalism should be about creating journalism that is more accountable to its community.

Who Is Participatory Journalism For?

Building on these points, the panel ended with a discussion between Amanda Hickman and Morgan Weiland about who participatory journalism is for, who it should serve, and how that should shape the process of participatory journalism itself.

 

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