Telenor-owned ABC Startsiden launched its new news site 15 February, which, as far as I know, is the first commercial Norwegian news site that features a mix of citizen and traditional journalism. For this Thursday's launch party ABC Nyheter hosted a debate on citizen journalism that provided many useful insights into why this type of 'journalism' is so controversial.
'The idea that everybody can become journalists is undermining the respect for journalism as a profession'. 'Citizen journalism is the end of objectivity, of balance, of respect for the agreed code of ethics', in short, it's the end of business as usual.
This was some of the flavour I took away from the debate, but before I go deeper into these issues I should disclose that I've known ABC Nyheter's community editor, Heidi Nordby Lunde, aka Norway's blogging queen, Vampus, for many odd years (more at the bottom of this post).
In addition to it's usual news coverage, ABC Nyheter has a section where everyone can register and upload their stories freely. The site will be using Slashdot's moderation system. Posts are not moderated prior to publication, but will be removed if found to be offensive, too commercial or similar.
This feature was the subject of a fierce, but fun and enlightening debate, at the site's launch party on Thursday, and ABC Nyheter deserves credit for hosting a debate which clearly outlined just why many find the concept of citizen journalism so problematic.
Of the four panellists, Trygve Aas Olsen, editor of trade journal Journalisten, opposed the concept adamantly, Björn Bore from Dagbladet and Arne Jensen from The Editor's Association both took more conciliatory but nuanced positions, while Heidi Nordby Lunde predictably defended ABC's position.
From the left: Björn Bore, Trygve Aas Olsen,
Arne Jensen (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)
Aas Olsen, who admittedly said he had been invited to play the devil's advocate, took a very harsh stand against citizen journalism, which provoked and shocked several of the bloggers present:
'The idea that everyone can become journalists is undermining the respect for journalism as a profession, a profession that is under enough pressure as it is from unscrupulous proprietors, cost-cutting, high profit demands and similar. I think we have to protect journalism as a profession because without journalism as a professional filter that records world events and presents them objectively, there will be no objectivity anymore...
'... Telenor is only interested in as much traffic as possible: those that allow their writing to be used by the company for free are being fooled. It's all about traffic, not about the proclaimed noble intentions of increasing democracy... I don't think citizen journalism can improve Norwegian journalism.'
The attentive audience (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)
Aas Olsen raised concern about how citizen journalists would pay no heed to these codes of conduct. To this, Jensen interestingly replied that the Norwegian Editor's Association had been struggling for years to make Norwegian media understand the rights and duties of the editor, which they only now were starting to understand. 'We are starting to get some informal rules of conduct for blogging, with citizen journalism we're not quite there yet, but we can't demonise every innovation for that reason,' he said.
'Citizen journalism is a lot more unpolished than traditional journalism' said Nordby Lunde, but highlighted how they received stories from corners of the world, and on issues, where Norwegian mainstream media offered no coverage, like on the recent election in Albania.
From the left: Tryge Aas Olsen, Arne Jensen,
Heidi Nordby Lunde (picture by Audun Kjelstrup)
One of my favourite 'citizen' articles from ABC Nyheter so far is a 50-year-old who writes a letter to the business life which has made him redundant due to his age. It's a very eloquent and moving piece I doubt would have been published by mainstream media. On the other side of the coin, I also found a story on ABC Nyheter which clearly was a press release for a fair trade shop.
I asked Nordby Lunde about this, and she told me yes, they had spotted it and taken it down, but when she had tried to explain why they had removed it to the person who posted it, he simply couldn't understand it and said: "All the other media published it uncritically, why can't I publish it on ABC Nyheter?" That, I think, sums up some of the challenges, both for citizen- and mainstream journalism.
Disclosure: I've known Heidi Nordby Lunde for a long time, crashed on her sofa countless times, and campaigned together with her for freedom of speech some ten years ago.