‘Citizen journalism’ without the scare quotes…
Itâ€™s good to be back at the Frontline Club.
My first encounter with the club was when I was invited to speak at an event way back in September 2005, when citizen journalism/user-generated content/blogging was a hot topic and Scoopt, the company I had started two months earlier, was part of the buzz. It was the usual schlep for me from Glasgow to London but the club offered to pay my expenses and gave me a room for the night. I was so impressed with the club and the accommodation that I swapped my expenses for a yearâ€™s membership. Iâ€™ve remained a member ever since and use the clubâ€™s bedrooms – thankfully now expanded beyond the initial two rooms â€“ whenever I stay in London.
As for the event itself, it was memorable to me for two reasons. First, when the concept of â€˜citizen journalismâ€™ was taking a hammering â€“ those pesky cameraphone-toting punters arenâ€™t to be trusted, don’t you know; everyoneâ€™s a Photoshop expert these days â€“ club founder Vaughan Smith chipped in with (and I paraphrase here): â€œBollocks! Iâ€™ve seen the most appalling fakery on the part of professional journalists and itâ€™s nonsense to suggest that members of the public are more likely to fake picturesâ€. Hurrah, thought I, feeling marginally less the whipping boy for a moment.
Secondly, Simon Bucks from Sky News made his infamous comment about not going to a citizen surgeon went you need a brain operation. It raised a good laugh but Simon himself has since said he thought it was patronising.
(A more cutting comment was an aside from Simon when I was asked from the floor whether Scoopt would handle really intrusive celebrity content. I demurred and he quipped: â€œWell, youâ€™ll never make any money!â€)
Funny thing is, I didnâ€™t think the surgery comment was particularly patronising. Although I was nominally representing The People in my role as Scoopt founder, my own background was in journalism and I believed then as I do now that professional journalism is hugely important. I was always sceptical of the crowd-sourcing hyperbole so in vogue at the time, and still today in some quarters. For me, the debate was not whether amateur content was a wholesale alternative to professional journalism but rather whether it had a valid part to play in newsgathering that could enrich the whole. I think that argument has been won and donâ€™t intend to rehash it here. Nor do I have the heart or patience to worry about what to call this, er, thing – citizen journalism will have to do.
So here in the Frontline blog pages, Iâ€™ll be casting a sceptical, personal eye over current developments. Some of the stuff happening right now is exciting and potentially disruptive. Some of it is just plain silly.
Let’s try to figure out which is which.