Social Trends Institute

Democracy Depends on Robust Journalism

Culture & Lifestyles · Peter Dahlgren
While much of the news on social media is produced by non-professional (citizen) journalists, we still need professional journalism to make sense of it. Peter Dahlgren considers how the two can learn from each other.

In his overview of Professional and Citizen Journalism (PJ and CJ respectively),  Peter Dahlgren stresses the need for the two to challenge each other to improve. As “a robust PJ is necessary for credible democratic governance and for the engagement of citizens in the democratic life of democracy,” he says, journalism must “chart a hybrid course” to preserve them.

The following are excerpts from his chapter “Professional and Citizen Journalism: Tensions and Complements” in the volume The Crisis of Journalism Reconsidered:

Traditionally, PJ’s legitimacy has rested on such norms as societal significance, publicness, accuracy, impartiality, transparency and accountability; this has been central to PJ’s moral authority.  The current crisis of journalism can be understood in part as the perceived danger that such professional norms are losing their impact in shaping journalistic practices in the wake of the various forces that PJ is coping with…

CJ confronts PJ with practices and values that destabilize some of its traditional premises as well as its internal and external power configurations.  Manifesting itself in a number of different ways, from lone amateurs to what can be viewed as alternative institutions, this heterogeneous CJ resists an easy definition or unified history…

PJ is always confronted by the epistemic challenge of grasping and transmitting knowledge in an ever-changing world; the problem of knowing is never secure.  Grappling with truth involves acknowledging the multiplicity of valid frames of perception in the world today; there is no one universally valid perspective, since all are in some ways localized.  Yet. With its established work routines, PJ tends to cluster its interpretive horizons fairly tightly.  As socially situated storytellers, news organizations usually deploy well-embodied, taken-for-granted discourses that prestructure much of the meaning to be conveyed.  In this regard the counterpoints of CJ and its ensemble of alternative perspectives should be seen as a positive asset…

Both PJ and CJ need to come to terms with traditional journalistic criteria to see what can and should be salvaged from that toolkit, and what new elements may need to be introduced…It is a set of dynamics that will continue to play out intensely in the years ahead, shaped by evolving circumstances.  But for the sake of democracy, we need a positive unfolding.