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No to ‘citizen journalism’


No to ‘citizen journalism’

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IMAGINE WHAT it would be like having a friendly neighbour with a handy scalpel performing life-or-death brain surgery on you.
Or having the village’s jack-of-all-trades supervising construction of your 20-storey state-of-the-art building.
A nightmare?
Veteran journalist Carl Moore says he will have to see the “citizen brain surgeon” and the “citizen engineer” before he approves the modern day craze of “citizen journalism” where anyone with the appropriate tools and platforms is making and creating news.
He made the comments on Wednesday evening during a panel discussion at Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBl) on Roebuck Street hosted by the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC).
The panellists were Stetson Babb of Starcom Network Inc., Andrew Lowe of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and Kaymar Jordan of Barbados Today, with Dr Sharon Marshall, public relations executive with the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, as moderator.
Vice-president of professional development with the IABC, Richard Thomas, said the meeting was held to explore the topic of what is news and whether it had changed; as well as the relationship between public relations (PR) people and journalists.
“What has changed in our environment is not so much news but the carriers, the vehicles that transport news and the platform” for launching the news, Moore told the gathering.
One change was that now “everybody is broadcasting” and being a “citizen journalist”, he lamented. He said when he could be shown “the citizen architect or citizen brain surgeon or the citizen engineer to put up your 20-storey building, not mine”, he would be in a position to sanction citizen journalism.
The panel generally agreed that the interests of PR people and journalists often collided because journalists essentially were looking for “hot” news (not necessarily in the best interest of the PR company’s client) and PR practitioners were interested in maintaining the good image of certain companies.
But the panellists pointed to a willingness by news companies to accept timely, accurate and well produced PR submissions that took into considerations the multimedia environment, using video and audio clips and not focusing solely on the traditional press releases.
Jordan said that in a sense, “good PR is bad news” because reputable news-based companies would not want to carry press releases that were “dripping with sugar” about a company, its products and leaders.
Jordan said the news organisations had to keep “a healthy distance” to safeguard credibility that would be compromised by appearing to be “in bed” with PR agencies by running whatever press releases they produced as news, as opposed to ads.
Thomas said there were times when it was better for the company to place an ad rather than try to get the media house to run a press release for free. He also advised against threatening to “pull ads” from media houses to get press releases run.
“After your product has won a silver award nine times, it’s not news,” he pointed out. “The first time, yes, maybe the second time. Take a self-congratulatory ad because, you know, there are times when advertising actually has more credibility than a public relations release and I think that’s something that public relations people also have to learn, that within its frame [the press release] has credibility but when you stretch it and try to put it into the wrong frame that’s when the reader says something doesn’t smell right.
Pay for it and get the message out,” he advised.
He also addressed the age-old issue of PR companies turning out press releases that were too good to be true.
“There has to be room for ethics on both sides of the river”, otherwise many people “will never trust us”, he warned.
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