“Participant reporter”

Another topic that came up at Sunday’s Commie J-School, mostly as people introduced themselves, was that of the roles and labels we choose for ourselves. “Advocacy journalist,” “citizen journalist” and “citizen reporter” are some of those used. A major network reporter once derisively called us “iPhone journalists,” a term I find quite apt and endearing.

For the first time ever, the tools to report facts, opinions and analysis using print, video, photography and graphic art, both recorded and live, are in the hands of virtually anyone with a modest income. This is revolutionary and is an integral part of both the open, transparent character of Occupy and a harbinger of the emerging hyper-networked democratic society. The means prefigure the ends.

After some thought, I’ve decided that “participant reporter” suits me best because I actively do both. For example, I was at Sunday’s Occupy Oakland General Assembly where I voted yes for Occupy Oakland to support the Golden Gate Bridge workers’ call to shut down the bridge on May 1st if their contract negotiations break down. The point is not how I voted (it was nearly unanimous, by the way), but that I was an active participant in the process that I’ll be reporting about on May 1st. While I won’t be blockading (e.g. chaining myself down or doing a sit-in or carrying a sign), I will do my best to get up to where the best story is, even if it means trespassing or defying police orders to disperse. I’ll willingly risk arrest or tear gassing to get the story out that I think needs to be told.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter, this blog or other social media knows that I strive to be as factually correct as possible even while my stories are unmistakably infused with opinion, analysis and critique of anything or anyone that catches my interest. I’m often more critical of, for example, negative behavior of Occupiers than negative behavior of cops.

Critiquing and pointing out police misconduct or abuse is a bit too easy and everyone else is doing it already, so I feel it’s covered. Not to mention kinda predictable.

I know that one of the topics of future CJS get togethers will be how we define ourselves to the world (and to authorities) with regards to our rights as journalists/reporters/whatevers, even though most of us aren’t journalists in any traditional sense and many of us, like me, are clearly also participants. Reporting is my main form of participation these days. Does that give me any special reason to not be arrested if I’m at a demonstration and feel I need to be somewhere to video or livestream the event despite police orders to leave? It’s a constantly evolving topic now that the means to report live to a worldwide audience are in everyone’s hands.

Thoughts, anyone?

4 thoughts on ““Participant reporter”

  1. Thanks for another stimulating post. No doubt I’m in the minority, but for me the more a reporter advocates or participates in an event, the less I trust his or her reporting. While Susie’s right that there’s no such thing as absolute objectivity, I prefer as much differentiation between roles as possible.

    Of course journalists—pros & citizen journos alike—have every right to advocate and participate. But doing so while reporting only undermines credibility. A person wearing two hats at once looks ridiculous.

  2. I obviously disagree that participating in something makes me less credible. If anything, it makes me more so because I actually know what I’m talking about. I know enough about the labor dispute and politics of shutting down The Bridge that I voted for us to support it. That means I can provide credible interpretation of what my followers/readers are seeing on my Twitter feed, livestream or blog.

    I feel that people who follow me do so because they value my analysis, not a he-said, she-said or robotic reporting of observable facts. People who are not directly involved in complex situations rely on journalists and commentators—citizen or otherwise—to interpret what is happening for them. I believe Justin or Susie made this point at the workshop.

    With the internet, we are no longer bound by the limited viewpoints of the gatekeepers of corporate news reporting. Everyone can be a reporter and we can choose whom we find most useful to us. Does someone think I’m not critical enough of Occupy or that I’m not critical enough of the cops or that my interpretations are totally missing the point? Find someone else.

    I have no data either way, but I’m hoping this unlimited variety of opinions is actually teaching people to think more critically, be a bit more skeptical and seek out a diversity of views.

    In my writing style, I strive to always differentiate between the factually observable, speculation and interpretation.

    When you opened your livestreamer story by quoting Susie and Justin, were you an observer to that workshop or were you a participant in it? The entire article is largely your interpretation of the livestreamer controversy and phenomenon, based on what you choose to include and how you present it.

    You’re obviously very sympathetic to livestreamers and especially to Team Oaktown Live, based on what I know of the controversy and all the other ways it could be spun. I’m fine with that. The only thing that might be appropriate would be for you to disclose your own status as a livestreamer were that the case.

  3. I appreciate your thoughtful and detailed reply. Please let me clarify one point. I am a citizen journalist but not a reporter. As I said at the workshop, I’m a news analyst. To me, those are two distinct roles. I “report” events only insofar as I reconstruct a narrative in order to give readers a context in which to consider my analysis.

    I don’t deny that CJs who live tweet or livestream are also capable of providing analysis on the fly. My objection is that CJs who simultaneously participate in and report on a political protest are unreliable—for the same reason that mainstream media would be if they too openly combined advocacy and journalism: there is a fundamental conflict of interest. A salesperson is not necessarily the best source of information on a product or service you’re shopping for.

  4. Ah, perfect example of what I’m talking about! Salespeople and tech reps very often are the best sources of info on a product. Honest reps, anyway. For example, I’m the best source around here for info on growing bamboo in this climate. I have a nursery, grow and sell 40 varieties. I’ll advise people against buying types that aren’t suited for their needs, even if it means missing a sale. (Of course, if they insist, I’ll feel I’ve done my due diligence and sell it to them anyway.)

    As with any product or service, when we’re shopping for information that is crucial to our understanding of the world, we need to do a bit of research, get customer reviews and so on. If a sales rep (or reporter) is acting like a used care salesman, we find one we can trust, consult friends or check Yelp.

    It’s not an either/or situation and that is part of the radically- and rapidly-morphing media landscape. Until we have Yelp for journalists, citizen or otherwise, we’ve got to put in the effort ourselves.

    We can probably let this one rest, since I doubt we’ll agree, but I do not think there is any validity to a blanket statement that people who simultaneously participate in and report on events are unreliable. It is no more true than the converse, that those who report w/o participating are always reliable.

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