Citizen journalism at the CBC

I cringe every time I see that Michael Geist has written another article about the CBC.

I cringe because he seems like a well-meaning, intelligent guy that I should like, but when it comes to the CBC, 50% of what he writes is myopic, ill-informed, or just plain wrong.

But he has some interesting ideas in this one, where he suggests the CBC take citizen journalism seriously:

perhaps its future lies in transforming itself from Canada’s public broadcaster to the broadcaster of the Canadian public, telling our stories and providing our news from the bottom up, rather than the top down.

The blossoming of citizen journalism, blogging, digital photo-sharing, and user-generated content is reshaping the way the public is informed and entertained. Millions of Canadians are no longer merely consumers of the news and entertainment. Instead, they are active participants — one expert recently labeled them as “the people formerly known as the audience,” who create, report, comment, and analyze their own content.

The article then goes off the rails, but before it does he poses an interesting idea.

Let me get this out of the way first: CBC news has solicited photos for years, and anyone with an “informed opinion” can apply to express it in an online column for CBC Radio’s Outfront will teach you how to make radio and put it on air if your story is good enough, and Radio-Canada has 5 sur 5, where viewers are helped by journalists to get answers to their questions.

I’m skeptical about citizen journalism, but that’s only because I’ve never seen it work on a large scale. It seems to work well for local, fast-moving flashpoint stories like the London bombings or the CBC lockout, but have you ever tried to rely on a citizen journalism site as your only news source? You better be interested in the World Cup.

Did you hear that Italy won?

You’re not a citizen journalist until you find yourself on vacation with a camera in your hands, watching a tsunami. And even then, the job lasts only a few minutes. If you survive.

I think there will always be a need for paid, professional journalists. And I think citizen journalism works as a great compliment to that, as a way to get the fuller picture of what’s going on. The CBC doesn’t have to hand them the keys, like Geist suggests, and I don’t think Canadians would be well served by that. But why not give them space, bandwidth, encouragement, and even a little money to work with to develop their own section of

Why not? Well, the CBC lawyers wouldn’t like it at all, for one. The CBC journalists would hate it as well. In fact, there are a lot of people in this building who would hate the idea on principle.

And if you read the CBC News Study, you’lll see that it’s not even on the radar. It’s just not gonna happen anytime soon.

And yet, on pages 2 and 3 Tony goes over the prime criticisms Canadians have about CBC News, including:

All media – including the CBC – define ‘news’ too narrowly, focusing too often on ‘bad’news that is of little relevance. We use language that is often confusing and frequently choose stories that interest us more than our audience.


Canadians want more diversity in the selection and treatment of stories, more openness and humility – and more accountability from us- about the way we work.


The audience is telling us they want to hear all sides of the story, not just two. They want an end to a simple black-and-white world. And many want increased exposure to more divergent views and perspectives.

CBC News drew its own conclusions from these criticisms, and came up with their own solutions. They made The Hour, for one. But it’s easy to see where some degree of participatory citizen journalism might work, too. Yahoo thinks so.

Personally, I’m wary of the hype. To listen to people like Geist, you would think that no one is watching TV news or reading newspapers anymore, they’re all too busy making “independently created Canadian content.” Which is silly, of course.

Still, the blogger in me thinks it sounds like a really fun idea.

Go France!

1 comment

  1. Joe Clark
    Posted July 11, 2006 at 12:44 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Blogging is unlikely to be a fad. So-called citizen journalism may be, and turning over the locks and keys of the CBC to everyone with a digicam makes as much long-term sense as, say, turfing NHL hockey and running footage of childrens soccer. A newspaper article may call for it, but that does not imply common sense or any kind of practicality.

    (Even Dan Gillmor got disillusioned with citizen journalism, but I cannot find a link to back that up, and I can usually find anything. Behold the perils of citizen journalism.)

    And Geist seems not to have noticed what Zed was doing with user-contributed content during its life (questionable though the copyright terms might have been).

    I was going to add that CBC could nonetheless be doing more until I realized that was a cliché.

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