Short history of citizen journalism

The history of citizen journalism is actually the history of journalism itself. Do a little research and you find that citizen journalism pre-dates professional journalism by about 200 years.

The first newspaper in the American colonies was published in 1690 and over the next 200 years, printers and newsmen opened hundreds of newspapers with varying degrees of success. During those two centuries, none of the news writers were professional journalists because the profession hadn’t been created. The journalists of the day were just citizens who felt passionate about something, owned or had access to a printing press, and started writing, printing and distributing their news however they could – sort of like 21st Century bloggers, photographers and videographers.

Perhaps journalism came of age in 1846 when The Associated Press wire service was formed or maybe it started in 1909 when the Society of Professional Journalists was founded. My opinion is that it began to evolve into a profession starting in the late 1860s soon after the Civil War when retired Confederate General, Robert E. Lee introduced a journalism course at a small church-owned university, Washington and Lee University, in Lexington, Virginia.

But it took awhile for the profession to become professional. In the 1900s newspapers fought viciously for circulation with absolutely no concern for honesty or truth in reporting. The term “yellow journalism” was coined as news editors and publishers would use imaginary drawings, fake interviews, pseudo-science, fictitious information from so-called experts, and scare headlines – usually in huge print and often of trivial newsworthiness.

Journalism as a profession prospered over the last 100 years especially with the creation of journalism schools in nearly every university or college in the world. The profession even wrote its own code of professional ethics and asked members of its profession to subscribe to it.

Unfortunately, over the last few decades many journalists ignored the code and segments of the profession have devolved back to the days of yellow journalism. When 28-year veteran CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg wrote his expose on media bias many in the profession called him a traitor. Media watchdog groups now have clear evidence that demonstrates provable bias in both print and broadcast media.*

With the advent of citizen journalism, the profession is transitioning back into the hands of the people who started it in the first place – citizens – John Doe journalists who, as self-confessed partisans find stories, interview witnesses, follow events, photograph incidents, record sound, videotape activities and report on all kinds of people being themselves, then post their reports on various websites.

Will the profession of journalism be better or worse because of this move back into the hands of citizens? Or will it survive at all?

We’ll see.

For an even shorter view of the history of citizen journalism watch this brief but interesting YouTube video.

*If you would like evidence of media bias note how NBC intentionally edited out “under God” from the pledge of allegiance during the opening of the US Open on Sunday, June 19, 2011. They later apologized saying, “it was not done to upset anyone,” nevertheless, it was done intentionally.