Is Citizen Journalism treading on the toes of Professional Journalism?
Here are two extracts from recent theatre reviews of the same production of Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle. One is written by a Citizen Journalist, the other is written by a professional critic. Can you tell which is which?
Extract A. The weight of expectation on this production is immense chiefly because, on paper, it’s a combination of talent and ideas that feels simultaneously fresh and defiantly classic. In short, it seems to represent exactly what the National does so well and what it set out to achieve back in the 1970s. Sadly, like the Creature itself, Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein is somewhat inconsistent: prone to flashes of greatness, but ultimately a flawed masterpiece.
The sense of palpable disappointment is particularly heightened by that fact that, at the centre of the show is a towering performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. Whilst I was a fan of his recent work I did have Cumberbatch pegged as someone with little range beyond the proud, the haughty and the academic; I therefore relished the opportunity of seeing him play Frankenstein opposite Jonny Lee Miller’s rough and ready Creature. As it was the roles were reversed at last night’s preview and Cumberbatch proved just what a versatile, hypnotic stage actor he is.
This is not the triumph everyone expected but a muscular production that, I imagine, will be remembered for individual triumphs such as Cumberbatch and Miller’s performances, Underworld and Ed Clarke’s innovative sound design and Tildesely’s stunning set. Things will no doubt improve as the run continues but, as a whole, Frankenstein fails to reproduce the power of the text it adapts; much like Victor’s experiment, it feels like Boyle is only half in control of his creation.
Extract B. In Danny Boyle’s eagerly awaited production of Frankenstein the show’s stars are alternating the roles of the scientist and the deformed Creature in Mary Shelley’s great gothic tale, first published in 1818.
On Tuesday we saw Jonny Lee Miller as the Creature, cobbled together from dead body parts and conjured into life by the power of science, with Benedict Cumberbatch as his appalled creator, Victor Frankenstein. Last night the roles were reversed.
For those who have tickets — and if you haven’t you will have to queue for day seats or attend a performance due to be screened live in cinemas on March 17 and 24 — I can report that both versions are well worth seeing. Miller, however, strikes me as the more disturbing and poignant monster, while Cumberbatch undoubtedly has the edge as the scientist who is ultimately revealed to lack the humanity of the unhappy creature he has created.
The play doesn’t disappoint when it comes to gory horrors – the fate of Frankenstein’s bride is particularly grisly – while the final scene is as bleak as anything in Beckett.
The production may be intermittently hobbled by dud dialogue and second-rate supporting performances, but at its best there is no doubt that Frankenstein is the most viscerally exciting and visually stunning show in town.
Thanks for voting, stay tuned to find out if you were right…
We can now reveal that the correct answer was Extract B, but more than 1/3 of you were April fooled! Journalists will have to keep their wits about them…
Extract A was written by Citizen Journalist Will Hunt
Extract B was written by Professional Critic for the Telegraph Charles Spencer
It was Facebook, not Twitter, that reaped the rewards for our Red Nose Day shout-out. I came to the conclusion that it was because the request came from a friend/associate, rather than a little-known/niche news outlet. Are people more reluctant to hand over their content with media outlets they don’t know? Tell us what you think…
Ask a media organisation about their motives for encouraging user interactivity, and they will mention such worthies as democratisation, reciprocity and authenticity. But the evolution of UCG was partly a consequence of, and important contributor to, a growing desire for transparency in the journalistic process.
Going are the days when news is handed to you on a plate at set mealtimes, well cooked and prepared behind the kitchen door. These days, there is no shame in letting the consumers see the work in progress. On the contrary, it’s an advantage: the consumer is then able to credit the source for themselves. It’s a trend that began with the addition of newsroom offices into the background of news studio sets, and continues now in the overt and relentless requests for first-hand information.
Dealing with the Complicated
In covering a large, chaotic event like the student fees protests in December, the BBC was criticised for patchy and delayed coverage (most notably regarding the apparent assault on wheelchair user Jody McIntyre) – its viewers had myriad feeds of alternative eye-witness information from a young, technically alert protest body, and understandably the BBC couldn’t keep up with it all. But its delayed response was also testament to the aforementioned mindset of yore – that reporting the news means churning out a series of finished, pre-validated products, albeit products sourced from new media.
But the trend of transparency means even the process of basic fact-checking can be an open, interactive one. Had the BBC dealt with its complex task by focusing its work on validation through witnesses using Twitter and other media, it would have quietened the howls of criticism. If rumours are circulating, the BBC needed to be discussing them. It’s the only way to maintain journalistic credibility in the face of a social media avalanche; official journalistic bodies no longer have the monopoly on information. As modern consumers become more used to having their journalism built before them, they will increasingly come to assume that if they can’t see it, it isn’t happening. It will be interesting to see if the student fees protest is the last time the BBC does itself such an avoidable disservice.
‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ has been snapping at the media’s heels for many decades. It’s a clear example of the most obvious reason people contribute to the media – to put forward their point of view, both on the news and the way it’s presented. The outlets for doing this are many and varied, and the potential size of audience beyond Disgusted’s wildest dreams.
All mainstream newspaper websites allow online comment to be added to stories, but that’s just the start. The Daily Mailis one of many employing a rating system; comments consistently recommended by other users rise to the top of the list. It is a cunningly democratic way of sorting thoughtful wheat from reactionary chaff, whilst adding all-important kudos to the process; not only can your views be published, but they can also win credibility from other users. The BBC takes this a step further – on their news site, the best comments are often added to the the main body of text, and become part of the ‘official’ journalism.
But there’s more to contributing than simply letting off steam. There’s an opportunity to actually drive a media outlet’s agenda. BBC programmes Feedback and Points of Vieware classic examples. These are all about discussing audience reaction, based on a selection of positive and negative contributions. The relevant BBC bigwig is hauled in to explain an approach, and often to promise to do better. The corporation clearly wants its audiences to know it cares. The fact it’s openly sensitive to criticism actually drives the audience participation – they know they can make a difference.
This, then, is the buzzword, and with it a sense of involvement. Today’s viewers won’t put up with being talked at. Not only do they feel the right to talk back, they also want the right to create. Technology makes contributions easier, but that’s not the only reason behind the sea-change in user-generated content. A vivid eye-witness report or grainy footage from a well-placed smartphone validate audience experience, and give coverage an open, relavant feel. The need for democratisation of good journalism is a popular public sentiment. Disgusted is happy to help.