Don’t be afraid of the amateur

The investigative platform Bellingcat is known for its inventive research skills. It uses open source and social media to uncover important information, in example to point out the Russians were the ones that shot the deadly missile on the MH17 airplane in the summer of 2014. The work of Bellingcat has so far gained more and more attention in the world of journalism, since their research is of such high quality. The most recent example derives from this weeks news: the platform was consulted by mainstream media in the missing case of a young Dutch girl. Teacher at our master in Journalism and Media Henk van Ess is one of the researchers at Bellingcat nowadays.

One would almost forget that the platform was founded by a non-journalist, activist Elion Higgins, as an amateur network. In the discussion on the boundaries between professional journalism and amateur consumers participating in newsmaking, I think the focus lies too often on the negative. In example Hujanen (2013) seems to be quite neutral about it in his research, but still uses words like ‘challenge’ to describe the dynamics between professional journalists and their audience. Lewis (2012) even talks straight away about ‘the producer-user tension’ and ‘the struggle for control over content.’

In my opinion, examples like Bellingcat show us that we don’t have to be afraid of amateur journalism. When a platform does research work of high quality, it will be proven of oneself. All journalists have to do is be critical of their sources, be it a fellow newsroom, be it Bellingcat, as they always are.

References

Hujanen, J. At the Crossroads of Participation and Objectivity: Reinventing Citizen Engagement in the SBS Newsroom. New Media & Society 15(6) (2013), 947-962.

Lewis, S. The tension between professional control and open participation. Information,Communication & Society 15(6) (2012), 836-866.

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