Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Gonzo journalism returns
in new media guise

By Cristela Guerra
FIU Student Journalist

These days it looks like anybody can call himself a journalist. Hunter S. would be proud. Camera phone in hand, citizen journalists capture real life as it happens.

But is it really journalism? Or just a new type of reality TV?

Newspapers and news organizations alike are pulling all the stops trying to keep up with the demand for “real stories,” by the readers for the readers — and at the same time keep themselves in business.

These "you are there stories" reach the newsroom by email, Blackberry, discussion boards and, of course, the ever-loved (or hated) blogs almost instantly. But this new frontier has a serious conflict: the clash between first-person narratives and the third-person perspective.

Sometimes, objectivity goes out the window.
According to Greg Mitchell, editor-in-chief of E&P magazine, this sea change has been a long time coming. Fueled by highly portable technological advances, the greater accessibility occurred at the same time that newspapers were trying to grow their Web sites.

“The technical things developed in the 1980’s led into the pre-internet," Mitchell said." At the same time, E&P was active and instrumental in promoting the Web to newspapers, he said.

“Over a span of two years we had panels addressing blogs at the conference and, if you chart the agenda, you could see the transition from 'what are blogs?' to Blogs are Cool and of course, now how can we use blogs for our means,” Mitchell said. “There is no longer any argument regarding the switch to online. The battle’s already been won.”

Not an accident that one of the first workshops the conference showcased Wednesday morning asked the question many in the field are wondering: “The User is King. So Where does that Leave the Media?” The panel included David Payne, senior vice president and general manager of, Alan Citron, general manager of, Ezra Cooperstein, director of development and production of Current TV, and Matt Melucci of

Each Web site, in its own way, has risen to the spotlight by highlighting and using their readers as a resource for breaking-news. Current TV calls their material “VC2” or Viewer Created Content, mixing reality TV and news by including a mix of material such as lifestyles, entertainment and raw spectacle.

Cooperstein, 26, said these Web sites are meeting the needs of a growing demographic of people, between 18 and 34 who are passionate for information and technologically savvy.

“Not a lot of people think young people know about information, but the truth is we live in a much more complex world than our parents,” Cooperstein said. “And people want to see young people in action; they want to see drama through the eyes of the people living the stories.”

One of Current TV’s vanguard journalists is Kaj Larsen, a 29-year-old from Santa Cruz, California. Larsen began his career while still in graduate school, sent a couple of test videos about homelessness in his hometown to the site.

He eventually joined the staff and was sent to Afghanistan to cover soldiers in battle. His 13-part series got the real war story from the mouths of those fighting it. It’s this twist of perspective that Larsen feels enhanced credibility.

“I think our generation is past this construct of objectivity,” he said.
“We have learned to process the information we’re given, and as viewers we glean and pull what we think from it."

Cooperstein agrees. “It speaks to what people now want in the news,” he said.