Citizen Journalism: Murderer of the New Media

By ASHLEY TEDESCO’s iReporting allows ordinary people to contribute to the constantly updated stream of online news. (Courtesy Of

Published February 18, 2010

Journalism students everywhere have grown tired of the inevitable smirks from all-knowing elders who love to claim, “Journalism is a dying field!” Thank you, sir—I love validation that my education is actually worth something. I’m tired of explaining myself with quips like, “News will always happen!” in defense of my major. So I surrender. All those claiming that journalism is dying, you’re right.

Journalism as an institution was once based on talented, curious minds eager to expose whomever they deemed necessary to get a story that sold papers. The muckracking years of yellow journalism did wonders to define us journalists as a breed. Often negatively, to be sure, as prying and devious creatures. Regardless of the badly stereotyped taste in the mouths of many, however, journalism has found itself with immensely well-respected figureheads in the last handful of generations. Print has names like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Judith Miller and Maureen Dowd. Dozens of broadcast journalists have become household names as well, including Walter Cronkite, Anderson Cooper, Barbara Walters and Christiane Amanpour. These are names that young journalists have aspired to imitate.

Now think about new media. As media makes changes and attempts to mend what’s been broken in the face of rapidly developing technology and communication, there’s something getting lost. This is not to say that the Internet lacks influence; it has the ability to extend influence even more broadly than television, and certainly more than print.

In terms of the people who bring respect along with the influence, however, they are hard to find. Who are the most well-known bloggers of today? Perez Hilton? He may have made a name for himself, but if his name will be the one going into journalism textbooks 15 years from now, I quit. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, strikes me as the only person in the mainstream blog world whose name I recognize. Sure, there are hundreds of bloggers who have made respectable names for themselves within niche markets, but in an increasingly global world, it’s almost frightening how few overarching leaders have emerged from within the blogosphere. Who can we aspire to be if there isn’t yet anybody to look up to? Perhaps it’s simply that I just don’t have enough faith in my generation to be the trend-setters, but in a market that’s been around since we were in elementary school, I’m worried that so few trailblazers have been able to emerge and make names for themselves.

Another big dream for young journalists is to attend the prestigious Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, affectionately dubbed simply “J-School.” Sure, there are other “j-schools,” but as far as a lot of us are concerned, there’s only one with a capital J. In our present economy, however, paying more than $50,000 for nine or 10 months’ worth of education in a field that can hardly afford to pay those it already employs sounds not just scary, but downright dumb. Don’t get me wrong, I have the director of admission in my Gmail contacts and a Columbia pennant on my wall. I want to find a way to convince myself that traditional journalism education is a brilliant idea, because I want to sit on the steps of Butler Library and claim it as my own. I want to believe in the establishment, but what does it have to teach? If we don’t have well-respected legends to teach us, nor books in their 10th edition to show us, how can the traditional establishment offer the same information for the new media wannabe moguls as it did for generations before us, steeped in the routine of printing broadsheets whose ink rubbed off on our fingers?

I fear there is no future for journalism as we know it. Sure, news will always happen, and it will continue to be shared the world over. But it will no longer be covered by respected reporters and moderated by red-pen happy editors. Rather, the media is rapidly becoming abundant with citizen journalists and amateur bloggers, knowing nothing of the form and butchering the art in the process.

I’m reminded of the mantra that everyone can write, but not everyone can write well. The inarticulate among us, bumbling blind for their words in the dark, are not allowing the talented wordsmiths to stand out from the crowd. They’re simply bringing down the entire field, relating all journalists to somebody’s grandmother who posts page-long sentences on Blogger. When there are no newspapers left, or magazines—and goodness, I pray that day never comes—there will be no way for the untrained eye to distinguish between the good and the bad, and I fear the bad will win out.

So here, at least for now, I’m throwing in the towel. Three-quarters into my undergraduate education, I’ll begrudgingly admit that journalism, at least as we know it, is dying. And to keep it alive, we’re going to need leaders. Figureheads and textbooks and institutions that can teach us the art of the new media truly and respectfully. Because the future of the media is NOT citizen journalism, and it is NOT Twitter, it’s not happening on CNN’s iReport or Tumblr. It’s still going to take the same degree of discipline and talent and studying, we simply need to find new Walter Cronkites, new Maureen Dowds, new Columbia J-Schools and maybe even a new AP Stylebook. The rules of journalism are changing, and the old journalism is shedding its skin. Do we have what it takes to be the face of the new, respected media? Here’s hoping. In the meantime, find me on Twitter at