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“The media may not tell us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about”

Bernard C. Cohen


In the fall of 1989 I attended a public relations conference in New York City. The event featured well-known local and national reporters who eagerly shared their strong viewpoints on how PR professionals should work with the press. I vividly recall how one seasoned reporter mockingly told the audience that “the press doesn’t tell us what to think but what to think about.” The audience politely laughed. I couldn’t help but think at the time that the reporter’s comments sounded vaguely familiar and disturbingly accurate.

In 1963, Bernard C. Cohen, the founder of agenda-setting theory, proclaimed a similar statement about the media’s role in shaping public perception. Today however, news reporting and the role that the public plays have experienced a seismic transformation.

This week’s blog post reflects on chapters 1-6 in Dan Gillmor’s “We the Media.” Additionally, it infuses personal perspective based on my experiences and beliefs about the digital media.

The first six chapters touch on many points concerning the media and the digital age. Several of Gillmor’s points resonated with me: history and evolution of journalism; the new age of reporting; and the roles of traditional and non-traditional journalists.

Prior to the late 20th century, the barriers to entry remained high for journalists. In those days, reporters attended journalism schools to better understand the art of reporting. This evolved into an elite group of educated professionals who reported news that was increasingly out of touch with the mainstream public. A certain distinction and separation existed between the press and the public

However, the widespread public use of the Internet began to crack this separation, thus blurring the lines between the two. Citizen journalism cropped up on the Internet. Citizens began playing an active role in the analysis, reporting and collection of news and information. Gillmor describes citizen journalists as “the former audience.” Citizen journalism has also been defined as “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”  

Gillmor adamantly believes that the increase in popularity of citizen journalism will only help journalists to do their jobs better. The author views the relationship between the public and journalists as one that is interdependent. Furthermore, he surmises that the rise in citizen journalism will provide a voice for those who have previously remained voiceless. Gillmor believes that traditional journalists should embrace citizen journalists by using them as a resource.

I think Gillmor makes some strong points. Traditional journalists need to embrace and recognize the value that citizen journalists can provide. Media corporations also need to take part and integrate citizen journalists into their business mix.

Consider today how CNN frequently uses citizen journalists to cover breaking news. In fact as the RichardCQZ blog reported back in February, CNN launched its iReport Citizen Journalist Web site.  

However, biased and opinionated reporting is a concern. Citizen journalists are not trained to report the facts in a balanced and fair manner. Their political biases and limited “world views” could taint the story by only presenting one side of a story (intentionally or unintentionally).

Although this video is showing its age, it illustrates both the opportunities and pitfalls that a newsscape dominated by citizen journalists could become.

In case you’re wondering why I chose the name, my company’s name is Pathway Communications. I am considering doing an educational vlog in the future.