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Is It Journalism? Does it Pretend to Be?

New West Network: Denver Media Offering Politicos Free PR Outlet. In south metro communities, at least, several politicians — including the House Minority Leader and a couple of wannabes who hope to be ensconced in the Colorado Capitol after next fall’s election — have discovered that they can post whatever they like in “news stories” and “columns” which carry no costs like a traditional advertisement and have a degree of implied authenticity that elevates them beyond anything a paid ad could dream to achieve. We can only hope that more local politicians discover this avenue for unadorned propaganda before the campaign season becomes hopelessly mired in attempts to seriously debate the real issues.

The question here is whether YourHub — operated by the Rocky Mountain News — is giving people a way to disguise advertising as journalism. It’s a serious issue, because how the site answers the question will help determine its future credibility.

Plainly, citizen journalism sites need to help readers distinguish PR from other content. It will take some hands-on action from the people running these sites, such as training and guidance for citizen journalists as well as clear policies on what’s acceptable, and cooperation from the communities using them.

The community involvement should include feedback systems that lets readers alert site managers to hidden agendas. It may also include creating new places on the sites, perhaps explicitly marked “Press Releases,” where such material can be moved.

This doesn’t let readers off the hook. When people read what’s on sites where anyone can contribute anything, they should be considerably more skeptical than when they read things in a professionally edited newspaper.

YourHub isn’t traditional journalism. Its users should recognize and remember that.

2 Comments on “Is It Journalism? Does it Pretend to Be?”

  1. #1 bracken
    on Feb 24th, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    Dan, thanks for this– I’ve been keeping on eye on the best (and, mostly, worst) practices of politician-bloggers.

    Off topic, did you see the news made by Outraged Moderate and his DoD FOIA request?

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Feb 25th, 2006 at 9:02 am

    I hadn’t seen that — pretty amazing. Increasingly it’s not the professional journalists who are doing the most useful work with the FOI laws…