The Reuters Newsmakers Event "Who needs journalists anyway" was held in Reuters' London headquarters with a packed audience of mostly journalists and other Reuters staff. Views on the phenomenon of citizen journalism were heard from a panel of speakers from the UK's broadcast and print industry, including Richard Sambrook, director of global news at the BBC and Simon Waldman, digital publishing director of The Guardian.
The panel drew a distinction between "witness contributors" who may once or twice in their lifetimes record a significant event and supply some imagery to a media organisation, and people who write blogs or create amateur journalism for the likes of OhMyNews. The latter group are the real challenge to traditional media it decided, but they are not going to replace journalists.
Rebecca MacKinnon, research fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and co-founder of globalvoicesonline.org, said: "I think bloggers need journalists. They wouldn't be blogging without journalists. They need the facts to discuss and to argue about. Somebody has to be paid to go out and get those facts.
"I think we started out seeing a combative relationship between journalists and bloggers but I think increasingly we are going to see a symbiotic one where journalists are getting story ideas from bloggers and bloggers are being helped by journalists to get their blogs read by a larger audience."
Simon Waldman pointed out that the statistics support this symbiotic relationship. "If you look at the sources that bloggers link to most, the top five are actually the New York Times, Washington Post, BBC, CNN and The Guardian. There's this dog and a lamp-post relationship, I'm not sure which is which but it is co-dependent."
Not only is the relationship symbiotic, in some cases non-journalist bloggers are being encouraged to become press writers. "Increasingly editors are trolling the blogs to find interesting new writers and then calling them up and asking them to write columns," said Ms MacKinnon. "A number of bloggers I know have got jobs writing op-eds and journalistic pieces because they were discovered via their blogs."
Richard Sambrook believes the increase in access to information and the rise of citizen media will actually promote the journalism industry.
"We have a fantastically vibrant newspaper industry here in the UK where a range of opinions are expressed. Newspapers seem to have survived because people love reading them, they love reading opinion.
"Yet it is the broadcast news industry that is regulated to be impartial and which is trusted to a far higher degree. Survey after survey in this country asks 'who do you trust?' and broadcasters come out a lot higher than newspapers.
"People like opinion, they like to indulge their appetite for opinion, but that's not the same thing as saying that they trust the media... But someone, somewhere has to say 'this is the foundation on which to base your opinions' because if there isn't a factual foundation to your opinions then they are worth nothing.
"[So] I think the premium on objective news will actually rise in the next few years... The internet has proved to be the most disruptive of technologies for our business... But I am optimistic, over a period of time the amount of information and the quality of journalism will continue to rise."
But Ms MacKinnon warned that some publishers are taking the wrong approach to dealing with these fast-moving changes.
"I think a lot of media companies are conflating the survival of journalism with the survival of their organisation. There is no equals sign there. In fact a lot of news organisations these days are killing journalism in order to survive as a business. A lot of journalists are now working for organisations where the management doesn't particularly value journalism and doesn't respect journalism values."
Some of the panel believed that there would be traditional media casualties as a consequence of the rise of citizen media. But that was not necessarily a bad thing for professional journalists.
"Let's save journalism, let's not save these companies," said Ms MacKinnon. "I would like to see journalism survive, but I don't care if it doesn't survive in its current packaging."
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