Tuesday, November 1, 2011

iJournalism or Civic and Citizen Journalism -- the name wars among academics continue in search of relevance and hipness...

This is the second time in two years and frankly I am bored to tears with it.

Not the World Series. This World Series repeated nothing from the past and was anything but borning.

I belong to the Civic and Citizen Journalism interest group in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication – the huge umbrella organization for academics who teach in communication departments and schools of journalism. And today, on the list-serve, the question of changing the interest group’s name has been in question.

Last year it was the Newspaper Division. I got way too invested in that discussion, which ultimately turned into a generational war, and – as I often do with horror movies – I had to turn it off. I created a separate e-mail folder for it, went there occasionally to check progress of the war and, unfortunately this is a reminder of the grinding war in Afganistan, forgot it was there.

In truth, I can’t tell you who won.

At Civic and Citizen Journalism, the suggestions for new names and the reason are familiar from the previous battle. My favorite suggestion so far is iJournalism, which signals either of two impulses:

1) We are enamored with the I, the self, the journalist enamored with herself, which is actually a live issue for incoming freshmen journalism majors, or

And, no, I am not so un-hip that I am unable to recognize the signature branding of Apple computers,

2) We are enamored with the technology.

Being enamored with the technology is like a flu germ that spreads through academic communication departments – without innoculation – from about fall break through the dreadful winter months, until nearly May. It affects both students and faculty, equally. It generally hits after the first midterms – perhaps in response to poor performance or simply to boredom, to the prospect of being cooped up together through the snow and cold – and continues unabated until the season of finals and portfolios and the prospect of summer arrives, when we become again more enamored with what work we have done and less enamored with what we did that work on.

I probably don’t belong in the Civic and Citizen Journalism interest group in the first place. I’m there because I was not hip to the inside jargon of academics, sharing my department as I do with only one other soul who is himself also not terribly hip to inside jargon, and, typically reading into the name what I wanted to read.

When I joined, my thought was this group would be about the reporter as citizen – as a member of the community not an objective observer outside (above) the community. As such, my thinking went, citizen journalists would respond more to their communities than the demands for blind objectivity by their editors or the demands for sexy, reader-grabbing stories by their publishers. Civic and citizen reporters, I thought, would see themselves as members of the community first and be guided by the notion of doing good in their communities.

What I was missing, of course, was the emphasis on citizen in the name. I’m learning through this debate that the word citizen means the armies of bloggers and Twitter feeders and practitioners of whatever technology comes next, who report like lone wolves on happenings in their communities.

I have a good deal of respect for those folks. With the folks who put out neighborhood association newsletters, they may be the last stand of local news reporting. I remember the “community correspondents” from my first newspaper post and how they supplied us daily with interesting reporting about who was in the hospital and who visited who for coffee. I had great respect for them then – they often produced the most readable and interesting copy in the newspaper – and I have great respect for them, and their digital kin, today.

While I find those modern legions politically interesting – even inspirational – it isn’t the interest group I signed up for. iJournalism is a much more honest name, and pretty hip at that, and if I’ve learned one thing in academia, it’s how desperately we want to be hip, lest we be left behind, like the ivy climbing up our building walls.


Tower of Power: "Sometimes hipness is what it ain't..." I cling to that lyric sometimes.

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