Not-So Citizen Journalist

Amateurs don't seem to be making such great journalists after all.

Despite high-profile stories of "citizen journalists" besting the pros - most recently Mayhill Fowler, who scored a brief interview with former president Bill Clinton and quoted him making disparaging remarks - hard evidence that hobby journalists are as effective as the paid variety is harder to come by.

"It's a lot easier to understand the concept that readers know more than journalists do," says Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at New York University and author of the PressThink blog. "But it is more difficult to establish a regimen where that knowledge can flow into articles and scoops."

Rosen has been conducting a study of the effectiveness of amateur journalists who are being woven into professional news organizations. And his early findings are not encouraging. Citizen journalists are not easily harnessed and integrated into real-world, deadline-oriented news operations. While it is now common for professional news creators to reach their audience via tools such as social networking and mobile devices, it is rare to turn the content that this interested, passionate audience creates back over to professional news-gatherers who are filling an actual story slot in a coverage assignment.

An amateur's passion for a topic can be a liability in the working newsroom. Amateurs prefer not to stray from their pet topics, so professionals find it hard to rely on them. And the basics of a professional news operation - deadlines, fact-checking and other spade journalistic work - often alienate amateurs, who then simply refuse to contribute to a particular news item.

"What I can tell you is this is slow and difficult work," Rosen says. "And we don't have any breakthroughs so far. There is no model as of now."

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