The Road from Citizen Kane to Citizen Journalist

From Citizen Kane to Citizen Journalist.

That’s the original title given to an essay that I co-wrote with Sir Arthur C Clarke nearly two years ago, at the invitation of the Indian news magazine Outlook.

The editors of Outlook changed it to Arise, Citizen Journalist! — which was fine, though perhaps not as poignant.

Of course, our original title would make sense only if you know what Citizen Kane means. That’s the name of the famous 1941 movie directed by Orson Welles, based on the life and career of American newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane. The Wikipedia describes Kane as ‘a man whose career in the publishing world was born of idealistic social service, but gradually evolved into a ruthless pursuit of power and ego at any cost.’

Many consider Citizen Kane to be one of the finest movies ever made — some rank it as the best ever.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

In the essay, written within months of the Asian Tsunami of December 2004, we looked at the rise and rise of citizen journalists — taking both a historical perspective and a futuristic scenarios.

On the road thus far, we wrote: “Historically, organised and commercialised mass media have existed only in the past five centuries, since the first newspapers — as we know them — emerged in Europe. Before the printing press was invented, all news was local and there were few gatekeepers controlling its flow. Having evolved highly centralised systems of media for half a millennium, we are now returning to a second era of mass media — in the true sense of that term. Blogs, wikis and citizen journalism are all signs of things to come.

After exploring the corporatisation of the mass media, and its implications for free flow of information and opinions, we ask the question: can the citizen journalist fill the many voids in today’s mainstream media?

The essay quotes John Naughton, a noted British chronicler of the new media, who has watched and commented on the rise of blogging and its impact on the rest of the media. We also refer to researches Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis who have defined citizen journalism as the act of citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information”

We raise the all-important question: “Will citizen journalism survive and thrive in the harsh marketplace? The answer to that question lies in our hands—let us not underestimate the power of the discerning media consumer to set new trends (and not forget how mass indifference kills many innovations).

The essay suggests that we should not write off the mainstream media — it has survived and adapted to many changes in both technology and the marketplace.

But our conclusion is definitive: Yet one thing is clear: the age of passive media consumption is fast drawing to an end. There will be no turning back on the road from Citizen Kane to citizen journalist.”

Read the full essay in Outlook magazine’s 10th anniversary issue, 17 October 2005

Read my friend Shahidul Alam on ‘Publishing from the Streets: Citizen Journalism’

Shahidul Alam on citizen journalism on MediaHelpingMedia website

One Response to “The Road from Citizen Kane to Citizen Journalist”

  1. Abu Khan Says:

    The ones who are afraid of citizen journalists are the same who are afraid of Mainstream Media (MSM): corrupt or despotic governments, corporations that have skeletons in their cupboards, lazy bureaucracies, etc, etc.

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