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"Write something worth reading or do something worth writing" A blog by Amy Willis, a multimedia journalist based in London

Check the dictionary

I love the concept of ‘citizen journalism’ but I find the use of the word ‘journalism’ or ‘journalist’ misleading in this context.

Take a look at the Oxford English Dictionary.

Journalist: 1) One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals; 2) One who journalizes or keeps a journal.

Clearly there is a distinction between one type of journalist and the other. However, in talking about ‘citizen journalism’ everyone automatically assumes we are referring to the first definition or an amateur form of this. There are no amateur professionals. This is clearly an oxymoron.

Blog entries are similar to journal entries. They give personal experiences and opinions. The difference is simply that in this modern era, these journals have become interactive.

Dorset Elk

The Dorset elk (by John McColgan, courtesy of

So why indulge this misunderstanding?

It is causing confusion. It is spreading an unnecessary pandemic of negativity as some people are failing to see the difference.

Citizen journalism is a source of news in its raw form. It is not the news. The news should be a collaboration of sources. It should not rely on one source alone- mistakes happen this way.

Professional journalists work hard to bring these sources together. To use the term ‘journalist’ for raw source data seems illogical.

Let us call it something different. Suggestions to be posted below please.


Filed under: blog posts, Online Journalism, ,

3 Responses

  1. Tim Holmes says:

    Hi Amy, this is an interesting post and I have a few comments.

    1) “It is spreading an unnecessary pandemic of negativity.” Can you elaborate on this a little? It sounds rather drastic and I haven’t observed this pandemic myself.

    2) Dictionary definitions only ever reflect the past form of conventional wisdom.

    3) According to Clay Shirky (qv) we have entered the age of the amateur (and have you looked that word up in the dictionary, by the way?).

    4) I like the word “readertorial”.

  2. “I love the concept of ‘citizen journalism’ but I find the use of the word ‘journalism’ or ‘journalist’ misleading in this context”… Hmmm, this appears to be conflating the practice of journalism (which anyone can do) with the profession (tags: citizen+journalism)

  3. amywillis says:

    Thank you for your comments, I feel I should perhaps make it clear that I am in no way against citizen input, in fact I think embracing it is the way forward. The way the BBC, CNN and the Telegraph are including ‘inews’ type areas and blog sections on their websites is fantastic and is certainly the way forward.

    In this article I hoped to show there is a distinction between citizen input and the profession and to demonstrate how the public still needs professional journalists and that citizen journalism is not a replacement, it is an add on.

    Tim, I used the term ‘pandemic of negativity’ as over the past few weeks I have listened to lectures where the lecturer explains how anyone can be a journalist and I have heard my colleagues, having listened to these lectures, raising the question as to whether there will be a role for them in ten years time. I call it a pandemic because in a similar way to the credit crunch, a little negativity or doubt projected to an audience fuels further negativity. It can be cured with a little balance and my article was designed to point out what is happening and how it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the profession. Admittedly it is perhaps a little strong, but I hope my point hasn’t been lost in my passion for the distinction to be drawn.

    In response to your second point about past conventions in the dictionary, I am aware of this and I used the online dictionary to get the most up-to-date definition as possible. Definitions change but my point is that this particular definition can change but should not merge. At the moment, I think it is perhaps on the brink of merging hence why I felt it was important to clearly show the distinction now.

    And your third point, I do not disagree with Clay, this is perhaps the age of the amateur. My point is that we need to make a clear distinction between amateurs and professions. As I have said above, citizen input should be an add-on not a replacement.

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