Professional journalists not ready to pack it in

IN THE NEWS

MARK ROSMAN

Iam not a person who adapts to change easily, but over the past few years I have gotten used to reading daily newspapers online. While I prefer holding a newspaper in my hand, I must say that being able to read several newspapers a day online is very convenient.

I regularly visit the Internet websites of the Asbury Park Press, the Star-Ledger, the New York Post (is there anything better than the gossip on Page Six?) and the New York Daily News. When a situation crops up in another part of the nation, I log on to the website of a newspaper in that city to read firsthand reporting of what is happening.

The bottom line is that while newspapers are changing how they reach an audience, the task that newspapers perform has remained the same as it has for decades. Simply put, the job involves putting reporters, photographers and videographers out on the street so that they can cover meetings and events and we can inform people about what is happening where they live.

Over the past few years much has been made of the rise of what has come to be called citizen journalism. Citizen journalism is defined as anyone who has the initiative to do so to pursue the same documents, interviews and stories that traditional media pursue and then to put that information on the Internet.

So how is citizen journalism doing?

I had a call recently from a resident of Howell who wanted to know why one of my reporters had not covered a specific meeting of the zoning board at which a major project was discussed.

I explained that reporters sometimes have conflicts and cannot get to every municipal meeting.

“But we need you to tell us what’s going on in town,” she said.

“That’s interesting,” I replied, and then, with no disrespect intended, I asked what had happened to all of the citizen journalists I keep hearing about. Why weren’t they at the Howell zoning board meeting? Where was their reportage?

“They don’t want to go to meetings,” was the resident’s response.

Gee, no kidding. I could have told her that before she said it.

You mean America’s citizen journalists do not want to sit for hours at municipal meetings? They do not want to listen to discussions among engineers about the technical differences between a retention basin and a detention basin? They do not want to sit and listen to their fellow residents ask questions about a budget one line item at a time? They do not want to hear their fellow residents bring up issues from 1991?

Those meetings are where the business of our towns takes place, and they should be covered by professional reporters and by citizens who fancy themselves journalists. I could not disagree with my caller from Howell who wanted a reporter at that zoning board meeting, because she was correct to want that coverage.

Much of what I see online that purports to be citizen journalism is the lifting of articles that have appeared in newspapers being republished on someone’s website, with some commentary thrown in for good measure — the kind of commentary that professional reporters do not include in their news stories.

Editor and Publisher, which covers the newspaper industry, reported recently that “citizen journalism isn’t stepping up sufficiently to fill the ‘information shortfall’ caused by cutbacks in the newsrooms of newspapers and other traditional news organizations, a University of Missouri School of Journalism study finds.

“ ‘While many of the blogs and citizen journalism sites have done very interesting and positive things, they are not even close to providing the level of coverage that even financially stressed news organizations do today,’ said Margaret Duffy, associate professor at the Mizzou j-school. ‘Not only do these blogs and websites lack the staff to adequately cover stories, but most citizen journalism managers d o not have the financial resources and business experience to make their websites viable over time.’

“The Missouri study looked at the top 60 citizen journalism websites and blogs, and identified several factors including how much linking each website included, how much public participation they allowed or invited, how frequently news and content were updated, and whether the citizen websites provided contact information for the public,” Editor and Publisher reported.

I am not knocking everything I see on the Internet that reports what is happening in our communities. Some of what appears online is good reporting that serves a real purpose and I commend those who make the effort to do it right. Some of what appears online can and does serve as leads to news stories that we pursue.

Remember this, however. Journalism is about more than just putting one’s thoughts and speculation online for the world to see. Elements of investigation, fairness, ethics, not to mention spelling and grammar skills, continue to make professional journalism valuable. Or, as my caller put it, “We need you to tell us what’s going on in town.”

I hope you will continue to need us and to value what we do as professionals for many years to come.

Mark Rosman is a managing editor with Greater Media Newspapers. He may be reached at gmntnews@gmnews.com or by phone at 732-358-5200, ext. 8278.