Guardian released their new collaborative tool— web, iOS and Android —GuardianWitness a few days ago. Touting it as a better and more efficient way for the public to submit newsworthy content directly to Guardian journalists; and if your content is used you will receive fame by having a link to your GuardianWitness profile in the news story. Making it easier, and probably more lucrative, for everyone to become a citizen journalist.
Being able to pass on content and information to journalists is not really a new concept. The media has always accepted information from the public, via ‘phone, letter or email. Now some newspapers have taken the step further, allowing users to submit content and information anonymously, via an encrypted page.
GuardianWitness undoubtedly must be an amazing tool for journalists at the Guardian. Not only can anyone pass on content to journalists via their iPhone or Android ‘phones, they can also do it while they are in the thick of it. Letting the journalists sit safely at their desks, only having to verify the content received — then write a news story based on that content.
When taking a look at the comment section of the article announcing GuardianWitness, it is difficult to ignore that, what seems to be, the majority is sceptical of this tool. Especially because those providing content will do it for free. Where some commenters point out that you are free to not provide content via GuardianWitness. Which in turn is rebutted with pointing out that Guardian themselves have been very critical of making people work for free in other articles.
The most laughable comments are those who assume that contributing content using tools such as GuardianWitness would be great to add to your CV. It kind of is, if you intend to show to a possible employer that you are more than willing to work for free.
It is not a secret that as a young journalist, you might have to work for free in the beginning to prove yourself and to be able to build a portfolio. However, there is a limit attached to that — the longer you work for free, the easier it is for a current, or a new, employer questioning why you suddenly want to be paid for your work.
Which is why I find it very dangerous when well-established journalists encourage citizen journalism. I truly admire the eagerness of citizen journalists, but when it comes to [journalistic] professionalism they often fail miserably — from what I have observed. Too often have I seen citizen journalists being more sensationalist than the MSM, jumping to conclusions and latching on to conspiracy theories — which they often gladly criticise the MSM for.
It is of course a luxury to be your own boss, not having an editor breathing down your neck, telling you that your write-up is either unethical, biased or down-right defamatory. There is a reason for this, and that is to ensure that your reporting is, even if it is an opinion piece, accurate, balanced and most importantly, factual.
The last couple of years has shown us that journalism has become even more volatile, making it very hard to break in to the field if you want it to be your full-time [paid] job. It also does not help when even journalists themselves manage to claim that journalism is not a profession, it is just a craft or a hobby that you are really good at.
With the creation of tools like GuardianWitness, it provides an amazing asset to already well-established journalists, but it leaves those journalists trying to break in to the field in a difficult situation — because now they must compete with hordes of people willing to supply content and information for free.