Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"True" B.S.

The folks over at Neaju are touting themselves as the "Internet’s first true citizen journalism site." The basis of this claim is that "[i]t is built to allow anyone to report news as it is happening, and to post it for everyone to read, bypassing the normal editorial process that typically distorts reporting and inserts opinions and spin."

Jeremy Littau of the University of Missouri rightly calls "B.S." on the "first true" claim, to which Vadim Gorelik takes umbrage on the Neaju blog. Littau responds. I thought it was a pretty good response, but you decide.

Let's review:
  • Some folks found a citizen journalism site and say it is the only "true" one because nothing will be edited and that's the only way to avoid spin -- which according to their worldview can only be introduced through editing.
  • This conveniently ignores any spin the "citizen journalist" might have.
  • It also conveniently ignores the "spin" the founders put out about the site:
  • The concept was developed in the winter of 2007, when a tornado ripped through central Florida. The founders were watching telecasts on various traditional news networks and were frustrated by the talking heads, and fillers that were used to fill up the air time. Most of the time, the coverage made no sense, and what’s worse, some of the talk was difficult to follow or relate to the event. One particular meteorologist was more concerned about displaying his knowledge of the area, than with explaining what Floridians could expect next.

    Meanwhile, there were thousands of people all over United States and the world who were worried about their loved ones, and wanted to get more information. There were people on the ground, who experienced the tornado first hand, who could provide much more relevant, and timely accounts, and they didn’t have a voice.

    As a result, Neaju was born. Unlike our competitors, we believe that you are smart enough to write news articles and to figure out if something is accurate or not. That is why we do not use any editorial process to filters edit your submissions or to tell you how to write articles.
    on what is news to start with:
    • Gee, so we're already making value judgments here. (Gorelik asserts in his blog that Littau is posing logical fallacies, but Neaju's founders are doing the same thing -- the logical fallacy that there can be a "no judgments" position, since even taking that position is making a judgment.) Further, when I do a Google search for "Florida tornado 2007," I get more than a few alternative sources of content, including several user-generated videos. So, while posts on something like Neaju would be additions to the mix, please do not say there were no other channels for people to assert their voices.
  • Let's look at one of the restrictions: "You cannot post pictures containing nudity or images of death." But wait, some of the most compelling "news" stories in the world these days involve death, like genocide in Africa. So we are forbidden to tell those stories in the most powerful means possible? Oops, seems like we're exercising a little editorial control there.
  • And as Littau says, the mere fact there will be a ratings system that can promote certain articles is a form of editing/gatekeeping.
Let's look at how this plays out in a story on the site tonight:
University of Texas at Richardson - Security was tight as the Texas House Committee on Corrections and House Committee on County Affairs held it's first public forum on illegal immigration and border security. Fueled by rumors Accion America was planning a rally coupled with Jean Towell, founder of Citizens for Immigration Reform on the witness list, campus officials and State Police were concerned over possible altercations.

The Accion America Rally never materialized and all those invited to attend including Ms. Towell were not interrupted during their testimony, save for a smattering of applause here and there. There were no protests or conflicts.

Initially, the conference center at UTD was almost full, but as the hearing dragged on, running 3 hours behind schedule by early afternoon, some of the civilians began leaving. The issues were complex and of the 16 people called by the committee to testify, each seemed to contradict a previous speaker or add variables no one had considered. An important item of note: ICE and other federal agencies involved in immigration were asked by the committee to testify but REFUSED to send any representatives. ...

So there is no editing -- except, of course, by whoever wrote this with his or her particular spin. The first sentence under Neaju's "What does true citizen journalism mean" is: We believe that news should be reported without bias, prejudice or distortion of any sort.

And, of course, there's no bias in that story above:
  • REFUSED in all caps? Nah, no spin or bias.
  • "each seemed to contradict a previous speaker"? No judgment call there.
  • "Fueled by rumors"? Why, that's not spicing the wording up to sound dramatic, now is it?
Bottom line. Welcome Neaju. We can always use another outlet for people to report on what they see -- or think they see. But when it comes to asserting that this is the only "true" cit-j site for any number of specious reasons, well, that's "true" B.S.



At 2/20/08, 1:13 PM, Anonymous Jeremy Littau said...

My guess is that what they're going for is the "wiki" concept, that is that people on other sides of the issue also would post their own story that would counter some of the claims and then we approximate the truth by aggregation.

Which is great, in a test lab. Not so much when you are starting your audience from scratch, because it means usually one viewpoint is dominant.

Oh Yeon Ho himself said that the more progressive view dominated in the early days of OhMyNews. This is not bad (in my opinion), but when you're growing an audience of writers it doesn't take more than a few submissions to make people perceive your site as having a certain bent.

And, as you note, it's important to see your site for both what it is, not just what you want it to be.

"True" citizen journalism? Debatable. The "first" such site? Not so much.


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