An End to ‘Fortress Journalism’?: Historical and legal precedents for Citizen Journalism in the United States

Richard Junger (Western Michigan University, USA)

The debate on amateur versus professional journalism seems rooted in new technology, but it was another technology, that of small pox inoculation, which led Benjamin Franklin’s citizen journalist brother James to warn Bostonians in 1721, “The bold undertaker… proceeds to inoculate persons from Seventy Years of Age and downwards.” Beginning with the Franklins and Thomas Paine, American newspapers have had a long history of printing user-generated content, establishing a long and respectable precedent for amateur or citizen journalism that has been obscured by the more recent professionalization of journalism. From frontier and labour to ethnic and African American newspapers, Americans have appreciated reader-generated content. The Hutchins Commission noted that “the right of free public expression has … lost its earlier reality” in 1947, and an underground or counterculture press flourished during the 1950s and 1960s in the UK, Canada, and Australia as well as the United States. More recently, a citizen employee of the U. S. Department of Defense instigated the publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1973 even as the U. S. Supreme Court has given credibility to citizen press rights in cases such as Associated Press v. U. S., Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, Columbia Broadcast System v. Democratic National Committee, and Miami Herald v. Tornillo. Regardless of the direction, the current controversy between professional and amateur journalism must consider the long history of amateur involvement in the news media.

Timing - Friday - Panel Session D1
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