The father of citizen journalism

Last week in Orlando at the NAA Connections conference, Lisa Desisto of the Boston Globe was given the NAA's online innovator award. In her gracious acceptance speech she acknowledged her two fellow finalists -- Dave Morgan of Tacoda Systems as "father of targeted advertising" and me as "father of citizen journalism." This, of course, immediately prompted a round of jokes in my corner of the room about illegitimate offspring.

I've never thought of myself as the father of citizen journalism. I'll accept some credit for a decade of beating the drum for participation, but I don't want to go farther than that.

It made me stop and think: Can anyone be the father of citizen journalism? I don't think it's possible.

It's a spontaneous phenomenon, a completely natural outgrowth of the personal publishing power that is inherent in the Internet. And it isn't just a result of the blogging craze. Back in the last century I referred to "a new kind of people's journalism" and the landscape at that time was dominated by sites like Angelfire, where the typical site was a rarely updated collection of jumping frogs and background sounds. I was thinking of those sites, but also of online group discussions (which have been around since 1973), photo galleries, and so forth. When people can tell their own stories, they do.

The CitJ label continues to be troublesome, and I'm not the only one who has issues with it. On the one hand, I strongly believe it's a type of journalism -- and on the other hand, the term "journalism" conjures up such powerful and specific expectations, left over from the era of mass media, that we are led into a thicket of confusion and arguments and harebrained ideas like the NUJ's "witness contributions" code.

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