June 17, 2005
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 FresnoBee.com.” 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 Snarkmarket.com.” (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.