The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32



All right. I’m throwing down my official entry in the Name-the-Unofficial-Journalist sweepstakes. For those of you who have lives beyond journalism, interactive media enthusiasts like Dan Gillmor and JD Lasica have been in a bit of a muddle to find a term for the many, many folks who are now producing works of journalism, but are not employed by any media organizations. Various factions are calling this “grassroots journalism” (Gillmor’s fave*), “personal media” (Lasica’s pick), “stand-alone journalism” (Chris Nolan’s choice) and “citizen journalism” (Steve Outing’s preference).

Why is it important? I guess because naming is a first step towards celebrating, acknowledging, and organizing. Names are important.

Pragmatically, if I’m not working for a news organization, I’m daunted from the task of reporting by the prospect of the question, “Who are you with?” or “Where is this going to go?” The very first thing I usually say to interviewees and potential sources is, “Hi, my name is Matt Thompson, I’m a reporter for” But I honestly feel as though it’s the term “reporter,” not the institution of The Fresno Bee, that lends me more of the cachet of officialdom.

I’d feel a bit sheepish if I were out telling my interviewees that I’m doing “citizen’s journalism” for The Fresno Bee.

So, first off, if we’re calling these folks journalists, it stands to reason they’re doing some reporting. So can we give ’em the word “reporter”? It sounds better, more comfortable, and it’s easier to toss off.

We could just stop there. After all, I’m pretty down with saying, “Hi, I’m Matt Thompson, I’m reporting for” (Not that I ever do, but stay with me here.)

But I think there’s value in creating a separate term distinct from traditional media reporting. The term should imply what all those above do: I acknowledge that my reporting carries a perspective; I’m not hiding behind a big institution, nor are the resources of such an institution standing behind me.

My nomination? Street reporter.

  • Quick, casual, easy-to-say.
  • Accurate, especially to describe folks like Jarah.
  • Simple conjugating: “I’m doing citizen’s journalism for …” vs. “I’m street-reporting for …”
  • Implies performance of actual reporting, thereby distinguishing it from “blogger.”
  • Fun aural affinities with “beat reporter” and “street performer.”

How’s about it, sports fans? Any counter-offers? Open to suggestions, here.

P.S.: I understand that this may be just like that time Amy Gahran started a campaign to get everyone to call RSS feeds “web feeds.” And no comment.

Correction: Dan Gillmor says his term of choice is actually “citizen journalism” as well.


But, hopefully, some will be more than just reporters – we need editors, columnists and photogs as well. just sayin’… 😉


One problem with “street reporter” is that it’s already applied to a kind of (vanishing, too rare) newspaper journalist who is willing to invest the shoe leather doing “street reporting.”

But I think Matt is exactly right about the preference for “reporter” over “journalist.”

A possibility: Citizen Reporter.

Street Reporter does have a nice ring to it, but in addition to its having an older meaning, you have the problem that a lot of online journalism is done very far from the actual street.

To combat the problem of online/independent journalists not being taken seriously by their potential subjects, I think a better solution would be to bring together groups of “blogournalists” (or whatever) into magazine-like organizations. I’m not a reporter, but I can imagine saying you’re from “Wired News” gets you a certain amount of cred, even though Wired News isn’t substantially different from a blog.

I do agree though that a better, more specific name is in order for journalist-bloggers.

I don’t know — it seems to me like “reporter” and “journalist” are pretty different roles, whether they’re done officially or unofficially. A reporter is someone who collects information for someone else’s use — whether that information’s gained first-hand, through interviews, through research and review of documents, etc. A court reporter comes to mind — they work for the court, not any media outlet, and keep typed or shorthand records of court proceedings for later review.

A journalist, on the other hand, is someone who writes (or otherwise “publishes”) about the news (another term that’s hard to define). Op/Ed columnists (like bloggers) aren’t often going around interviewing people or poring over transcripts, but they get paid to have an opinion and editorialize about it.

Are bloggers who write “I ate peas today” journalists? Not really, apart from the definition “one who keeps a journal.” Are they reporters? Well, again, in a very limited sense, yes, in that they’re documenting what’s happening, but…

I guess the critical distinction is some sense of public relevance and interest in whatever’s being reported and/or journalized about. There are bloggers to whom the title “reporter” would be accurate, others to whom the title “journalist” is a better fit. In the world of old media, you could be a reporter and not be a journalist (“so-and-so contributed to the reporting for this article”) but this is less plausible for bloggers or other new-media newsters.

Maybe “reporter” gets Matt a better response when he approaches sources because it describes what he’s about to do — ask questions or otherwise pry them for information. “Journalist” is the other side of the profession — someone who processes this information into a publicly available piece of media.

Well, anyways — this half of the term seems pretty complicated, but at least it seems to be down to two options. The first term — “citizen,” “street,” “grassroots,” “personal,” or whatever — seems to me more open and more contestible, but ultimately more decisive. Both “reporter” and “journalist” have their analogues in the new and old way of doing things, but whatever that first term describes really indicates what’s different about the not-entirely-traditional media.

Citizen reporter has served OhmyNews well (in both Korean and English) since 2000.

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