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May 05 2011

16:15

Why the man who tweeted Osama bin Laden raid is a citizen journalist (but why he might not care)

There of interest in @ReallyVirtual at the moment. Sohaib Athar an IT consultant in Abbottabad Lahore Pakistan. That’s right. The fella who ‘inadvertently’ live tweeted the raid on Bin Laden’s compound. I don’t need to say much more.

The way twitter responded to the event threw up some interesting areas to ponder.

  • How could a journalist new to twitter build a network that would key them in to this kind of thing?
  • How much the discussion on twitter must have been like a the discussion in the newsroom
  • How amazing networks are.

The way the network raised Athar in to the view of more than just his own part of the twitterverse is explored in an interesting article by Steve Myers who traces back through his own network to try and get to where Athar came from.

But it’s the followup article (whose title I hijacked for the title of this one) that caught my attention. Myers writes:

When I wrote earlier this week about how quickly people around the world learned that Sohaib Athar had “live tweeted” the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, I thought carefully before calling him a citizen journalist.

He was prompted to explore that further by an article refuting the claim that twitter has replaced CNN by Dan Mitchell.

Steve Myers of The Poynter Institute declares that Sohaib Athar, a guy who lives near bin Laden’s compound, is a “citizen journalist.” Athar, an IT consultant, wondered what the hell was going on when the helicopters arrived in Abbottabad. Because he wondered on Twitter, in real time, now he’s a “citizen journalist.”

Even Athar, who had 750 followers as of Sunday night and now has tens of thousands,knows this is ridiculous.

Indeed. Although I think Mitchell uses Athars tweet (below) a little out of context to suit his point.

There was a problem with the blakbirdpie shortcode

All of the articles are worth a read. Myers deconstruction of Athar’s tweets is particularly good. But there is one thing that is ignored.  It’s alluded to. But never asked. Does Athar care?

Does Athar care that he is a citizen journalist or otherwise? Is it important to him.

Pondering that one just reinforces my view that the only people who have a problem with the phrase are the people who use it most – journalists.

I did tweet Athar to ask him if he thought he was a citizen journalist. I don’t expect an answer. His twitter stream make it clear that he’s very busy with interviews.

I suppose one thing you can say for certain in that whether or not he’s a citizen journalist he’s certainly a celebrity.

 

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July 23 2010

10:53

#cnnfrontline Mobile and journalism: Part one- some clarification

Big cameras at the Frontline

Big cameras at the Frontline

Last night I found myself at the infamous (and very pleasant) Frontline club to sit on a panel talking about Mobile technology in newsgathering and journalism (Disclosure: It was an invite from CNN and Edleman who bought me tea and put me up in a hotel, which was very nice of them).
The event was a chance for CNNi to launch their new iphone app and, if the chat on twitter was anything to go by, the audience to be a bit frustrated.
One commentator noted the white, male flavour of the panel. I agree and I’ll not go next time. But for many the problem was we didn’t really get round to what a lot of people wanted to know – what are the business models for mobile?
@thevideoreport report tweeted that it was all “a bit 2002” and @adamwestbrook noted that, lovely though the panel was, nothing new was learned.
I understand the frustration. The conversation ranged round some of the usual subjects – citizen journalism vs. journalism, big cameras vs. little cameras (a subject I’ve blogged in repeatedly) – and it seemed only vaguely touched on mobile itself.
I suppose I should apologise for that, I was on the panel when all is said and done. But I just wanted to clarify some points and maybe develop the conversation a little more in to the areas people felt we missed. As I was drafting this post it started to get a little long so I’m going to do it in a couple of parts.  So,to start, some clarification.
One point I wanted to pick up was the brief kick around of the ‘attitude’ of students to news and opinion. I was quoted as saying that “journalism students come in thinking everything they think is news” It’s not quite what I said but the point is worth amplifying.
Students do come in with very strong opinions and ideas. Opinions about what journalism is, what they will be as journalists, right and wrong etc. As they should and, as I always say, that’s brilliant – not that they need my permission or approval. I love opinionated people and I love the passion that brings. But the reality is that for most jobbing journalists expressing their opinion is a luxury. It isn’t what journalism is about. It’s my job to help them understand that framework perhaps to frame expectations. But it doesn’t mean I don’t thing they should have opinions or that they are wrong (or that journalism is wrong or right for that matter). It’s just there is a time, place and form.
What takes time is building a professional identity that separates that opinion and journalism in a visible and transparent way. I suppose the web blurs that slightly as we still labour under the distinctions of journalists and bloggers for example. But the truth is journalism works a certain way and if you want to be ‘in journalism’ its worth learning how to bend to that when required.
The issue of citizen journalists also came up. I said that I kind of liked the term because it described what the person was and what they did. They were a citizen, concerned and motivated by what was happening around them and they wanted to tell the world about that. The discussion prompted a question from the floor asking why, if it was so good,  it hadn’t taken over from traditional news sources?
For me that isn’t it’s job. It’s there to amplyfy the concerens and interests of a collection of people; hyperlocal, niche, whatever. In that sense it doesn’t aim to replace the mainstream media, just live in the gaps. And, I might add, there is a nice opportunity for a business model there. Not, as I have said before, for the big guys. But big enough to support the  community it amplifies.
That’s a challenge for mainstream media. Not the threat itself but the fact that it’s happening because of them as they seemingly ignore or having only a passing interest in those communities.
I’m going to stop there because I’ve blogged on all of these areas at length before.
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