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Open Thread: Citizen Vs. Professional Journalists

Can the two get along and does it matter to the information consumer?

On Saturday night, the information age presented the Baltimore area with a highly unusual situation.

Local blogger Frank James MacArthur, aka A.F. James MacArthur or Baltimore Spectator, was involved in a standoff with police, who were trying to take him into custody for allegedly violating probation. He has since been taken into custody on gun possession charges stemming from weapons found in the home after the standoff ended.

Whereas a decade ago, the information would have predominantly come from television networks and the websites of major news publications. MacArthur used online tools available to tell his side of the story.

North Baltimore Patch Local Editor Adam Bednar discussed this topic on the Marc Steiner Show Wednesday on WEAA 88.9 FM.

MacArthur, who considers himself a journalist and activist, updated his Twitter account with play by play as to what was happening to him. He also took to www.spreaker.com, which allows people to live stream audio over the Internet, to broadcast his discussions with a police negotiator.

Many people consider it a testament to the power of the Internet to give voice to those the so-called mainstream press allegedly ignores. Some Patch readers posted supportive messages in the comments section on a story about the standoff.

“What truth has Mr. MacArthur blogged about that has set the police on such a rampage??? Think about it,” commenter Lee Titford wrote.

But not everyone is such a fan, or feels that citizen journalists could or should replace professionals. 

David Zurawik, the Baltimore Sun’s media critic, wrote a column warning that MacArthur’s actions show the dangers of losing traditional media, including his newspaper, and replacing it with so-called citizen journalists running blogs and streaming online video and audio.

"And all of you mainstream media haters who fall on your schadenfreude knees each night praying for the demise of the Washington Post or The Baltimore Sun, this is the guy who is going to be bringing you information about your world if your prayers are ever answered. Good luck with that," Zurawik wrote.

What do you think of the role of “citizen journalists” in the social media age? What do you think the future holds for professional journalism? Tell us in the comments.

Dan December 06, 2012 at 12:56 AM
Its no secret anymore that many "Professional Journalists" present their "facts" with bias and a coinciding agenda. Until this changes, I like having as many perspectives on newsworthy events as possible. Including the perspectives and bloggings of journalists who may not be considered "professional," but do hold themselves to a higher set of ethical standards than many of today's "Professional Journalists" seem to be lacking.
Sean Tully December 06, 2012 at 06:37 AM
I don't think it matters whether or not a person taking photos of a house on fire works for an established media company or if the person is a regular Joe with video camera who is going to upload it to Youtube. The news is still the same. What we need established media for is explaining why the fire is significant and getting the information out to many people at once. I don't think we can ever do without the established media. Look at Baltimore City and how much waste and abuse there is when we have such media outlets as the Baltimore Sun, WBAL, FOX, and Patch. Can you imagine how corrupt our government would be if we had to rely on bloggers for information?
Caideenah December 06, 2012 at 10:57 AM
@Sean Tully- Corrupt Government? I don't have to imagine that. It stares us in the face every day. Uploading to Youtube, photo shares, blogs, or podcasts is our freedom. Whether we are being lied to or told the truth shows itself more often than not. Either way it is best to get both sides of the story before deciding anything. We humans as a whole have gotten used to reading "the news" and taking it for face value even when our gut says something doesn't fit. Often one of us will be there and see the other side, but getting what was seen out and known is hard to do, and more often dangerous to our jobs, reputations and lifestyles. Quite frankly, I appreciate the bloggers who give us the reality of things behind what is reported on news media. Often vital details are left out or the media is biased. And if you still think that bloggers are horribly wrong and we should only trust news sources... then answer this: You are standing in front of a judge convicted of something you did not do. Who do you want to sit on the jury and as your witnesses and defense... bloggers who were most likely there when it happened, or "the news" that got there fast as possible after it started and had to set up equipment before making a report? I think if you were Frank James MacArthur, you might hope for the bloggers, because "the news" isn't telling the story in full. I'm not even from Baltimore and I can see that much. The day you remove both sides of the story, is the day freedom dies.
Jim Oremland December 06, 2012 at 01:09 PM
As a very peripheral member of the fourth estate I've witnessed both sides. The internet provides a venue for what used to be letter to the editor writers _ in short, commentary. The problem with commentary is that it is strictly opinion. Professional journalists, who are writing news stories, are required to use facts, or the best facts that are available and able to be confirmed. Bloggers are not under this constraint. I see information disseminated as fact by bloggers which is simply their interpretation of the story. As to agendas, Bias is rampent everywhere. One used to read both sides of a story to get the full story. Now, with advent of all of the conservative and liberal talk shows and bloggers, one only reads what they agree with initially.
MarJo December 06, 2012 at 02:42 PM
Wait, which are Patch reporters? Do they still count as professionals if they don't get paid?
Adam Bednar (Editor) December 06, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Patch editors are salaried employees that generally have a traditional background in journalism. By using that as a measure we're "professionals." But it's up to your interpretation as to whether getting paid makes you a journalist. For example, I don't believe anyone is making a living at the Baltimore Brew. But I would consider Fern and Marc to be professionals.
number9dream December 06, 2012 at 06:12 PM
As an "information consumer" (what a dreadful term), what matters to me is the information. Neither the scofflaw, narcissist, Don Quixote-esque "Spectator", nor the tattered rags, the holy names of which Zurawik utters, offer much that appeals to me for consumption.
Sean Tully December 06, 2012 at 11:10 PM
In the glory days of the Patch (at least for me), I was paid for my reporting and I did some fairly well reported stories. At that time I did consider myself a reporter. But I am not pretending that the blog I write now is journalism by any stretch of the imagination. Heck, some of my entries aren't even good letters to the editor. Basically I do this blog for the fun of it and I use it as a platform to voice my opinions and observations. I used to write a lot of letters to the Sun, but now that I do this blog, I don't do that any longer.
AnnKangarouse December 12, 2012 at 06:27 PM
"Professional journalists are not, in fact required to use facts, do ANY fact checking or confimation of 'facts' at all. Keeping in mind as well that there is still the Editing Department. Editors have for example made a point to their writers that they have an agenda, or slant to an article. Doesn't really matter what the reporter writes, b/c the editors will indeed, change the nature of an article to fit their slant. Often times, wehn regular citizens submit "Letters to the Editor". the editors will actually change/remove words, sentences, etc. in order to comply with their own opinions. Providing the news as it happens in real time is most definitely a threat. And still, some folks are convinced that the edited versions of what's really going on is "real news".
Steve December 12, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Claims to truth are spurious at best. The mere fact of choosing what facts and what weight you attach to them reduces all journalism to just another form of fiction. The facts that are left out are often as important as the facts that are reported.
Philip Berg December 14, 2012 at 11:22 AM
Maybe if the Sun had done some serious investigation into the "accidental" shooting of Baltimore's finest by it's own, they would have some cred. The MSM does not address the inherant problems of the status quo of the State monopoly on maximum violence. For a brilliant discussion of why this monopoly is neither necessary or desirable, go to Mises.org and listen to the podcasts by Hans Hoppe. Here in san Francisco, we have the SF private patrol., an institution written into the city charter since the Gold Rush days. Officer Jane Warner patrolled the Gay Castro district for decades, hired by the local businesses.. When she died of cancer, a spontaneous monument was planted at 18th and Castro in her honor. The mini park accross from Harvey Milk Plaza bears her name. the private patrol has sufferd from the SFPD's jealosy. The plaque honoring her stolen.. The biggest problem with our police is that they are not paid by the local citizens. Most of the funding comes from the Feds and the State. Citizens controlling the purse strings of the local law enforcers was ann essential bulwark of our liberty according to DeToqueville. in his seminal work democracy in America. The Federalization of our local police is one of the greatest threats to our country. Witness Mexico's Federalis. When the locals have no say over the police, tyranny will reign. They taught DeToqueville when I went to Baltimore Polytechnic back in the day. Bet they don't now.

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