The Citizen of Citizen Media

An interesting discussion has taken place today about citizen media. The discussion started on Twitter (so that’s what it’s good for!) and moved on to a few blogs: One was on Jay Rosen’s Press Think, where he hazarded a definition of citizen journalism:

When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.

Another was Dan Gillmor’s Center for Citizen Media Blog where Dan Gillmor looked into the origins of the term.

Citizen journalism is an idea of the 2000s that grew out of the public journalism movement of the 1990s. I won’t go into the differences here, but a commonality is in the understanding of “citizen” in “citizen media.” As I commented on Jay Rosen’s post,

The political idea of “citizen” in “citizen media,” etc. is not about being a documented citizen of a particular country but about having agency in a political community, using the power one has as a member of the community to shape the direction of the community. The term citizen is better [than] “person” because it has a political connotation. Prior to digital media, people’s power was pretty limited (remember mimeographed underground papers?). So the delightful double effect of citizen media today is that the media technologies actually help turn people into citizens.

Jeff Jarvis is proposing replacing the term citizen journalism with networked journalism for lots of good reasons (e.g., to get away from the divide between citizens and professional for professionals are citizens, too). But this proposal somehow loses the potency of how members of a political community can use and develop agency through new forms of communication.

By Noelle McAfee

I am professor of philosophy at Emory University and editor of the Kettering Review. My latest book, Fear of Breakdown: Politics and Psychoanalysis, explores what is behind the upsurge of virulent nationalism and intransigent politics across the world today. My other writings include Democracy and the Political Unconscious; Habermas, Kristeva, and Citizenship; Julia Kristeva; and numerous articles and book chapters. Edited volumes include Standing with the Public: the Humanities and Democratic Practice and a special issue of the philosophy journal Hypatia on feminist engagements in democratic theory. I am also the author of the entry on feminist political philosophy in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and well into my next book project on democratic public life.


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