Citizen journalists tackle Iowa

It’s difficult for mainstream media folks to discuss citizen journalism without falling into the “us against them” trap. We are so conditioned to defining journalism as “it’s what we do,” that when someone or something comes along that clearly isn’t doing what we do, the reaction is to say it’s also not journalism. Maybe. Maybe not.

But among the more impressive organizations in this citizen journalism space is The UpTake, a Minnesota-based group which is training citizen journalists. The site is to provide live Internet video during the caucuses.

“We have been recruiting in Iowa since our inception this summer. We recruited a group of native Iowans who are capturing their experiences as the campaign trail comes to an end and will be capturing their experiences at caucuses,” said Noah Kunin, director of UpTake. “Our advantage is our speed and our flexibility to provide unfiltered content.”

Kunin says it’s a shoestring budget — under $600 — for the group, which consists of “unpaid people with day jobs.”

And what has he found so far in Iowa? A heavily controlled state that makes it tough to capture the “real Iowa.”

“The media wants the real story, but they structure themselves in such a way that puts them away from the real story… the real island. (The campaigns want to) utterly and completely lock down anyone who’s even nominally involved with the campaigns,” he says. “Volunteers here are actually credentialed, they have volunteer badges, so you know who they are. But if you try to talk to them, they will not talk to you. They have all been indoctrinated not to talk to any media whatsoever. And so there’s a co-construction between the campaigns and the media that makes it very difficult to cover that ‘real island’ vibe. Everyone who has not already been locked down by the campaigns, isn’t very interested in politics anyway and doesn’t really want to talk to you.”

Not all attempts to get around that are entirely successful. One piece running today shows a mainstream media (dubbed “corporate media”) camera crew more interested in shooting a picture of volunteers on telephones — presumably, that was their assignment from their boss — than protesters of the Iraq war at the Obama storefront. “Don’t you care about the dead in Iraq?” the citizen journalist asks. “I don’t care,” the camera person responds.

“With that one, I was not the editor on it so I can’t speak directly to it,” Kunin said. “We decided that was, while certainly subjective, it was a valid viewpoint and it encapsulated a lot of the opinions we’re seeing out there… in the blogosphere, on the reactions to the media and the Obama campaign… on his perceived moved to the center. Where I want to go with this, is moving toward the idea of a conversation. When a piece like that goes up, it’s easy to respond to it…so people can see the entire spectrum of conversation.”

Listen to the interview with Noah Kunin. (mp3 16:54)

  • http://theuptake.org Chuck

    Likewise, citizen journalists probably need to get over being too sensitive, and expecting people to be impressed for even making the effort. So, thanks for the criticism and discussion Bob.

  • Jeff

    I tuned in to UpTake’s 24-hour “live” coverage sometime Thursday afternoon and instead got a re-run broadcast from 2am of a woman whispering into a microphone that “there’s not much happening here…because it’s two in the morning.” Then a guy came on doing a bad impersonation of FOX News anchor Brit Hume and proceeded to take his shirt off. I tuned out before these citizen journalists took their “real story” reporting any further.

  • http://blogumentary.typepad.com Chuck

    Yep, that was us at 2am Jeff — we have a little too much fun on little sleep!