Citizen Journalism and why Unionists fear it

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  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
A new attack line has emerged in the independence debate.   The target of this new line of attack is citizen journalism.
 
Just over a week ago during First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson attacked First Minister Alex Salmond, accusing him of selectively quoting from a “letter he found on the internet” to back up his case on EU membership of an independent Scotland.

  By G.A.Ponsonby
 
A new attack line has emerged in the independence debate.   The target of this new line of attack is citizen journalism.
 
Just over a week ago during First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson attacked First Minister Alex Salmond, accusing him of selectively quoting from a “letter he found on the internet” to back up his case on EU membership of an independent Scotland.

Davidson claimed Salmond had chosen to “Google a pro-independence website” rather than read from an official letter given to Parliament.

The communication quoted by the First Minister was from an EC official and was revealed by Newsnet Scotland in October.  It challenged claims being made by people like Davidson who insist that a newly independent Scotland will be thrown out of the EU.

Davidson’s attempt to discredit Newsnet Scotland followed similar comments from Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont who said: “It seems Salmond is basing Scotland’s future on his ability to Google.  What other parts of the White Paper rely on random websites?”

Lamont added: “The fact is we do not know who wrote the original letter or what they asked because Alex Salmond pulled the letter off the internet.”

The Daily Record joined the attack on this apparently subversive website by labelling it “crackpot”.  This weekend Sun journalist Kevin Schofield implied anyone praising either Newsnet Scotland or former BBC presenter Derek Bateman were unworthy and would be “unfollowed” by his twitter account.

The attacks on Newsnet Scotland by a pro-Union newspaper and the attempts to discredit the site by Lamont and Davidson in the Scottish Parliament no less, signal an unhealthy shift in the independence debate.

It’s a shift that seeks to portray as unworthy, articles and views published by online outlets that operate a pro-independence editorial line.

Davidson and Lamont’s attempt to attack the Scottish Government after the First Minister highlighted the letter which was revealed by Newsnet Scotland was of course picked up by a traditional media, itself keen to discredit pro-independence citizen journalism.

The Guardian’s Scottish correspondent Severin Carrell wrote of the letter episode:

“But the significance of that disclosure was quickly undermined after it emerged that Salmond’s aides had downloaded the letter from a nationalist website, Newsnet Scotland, and had not been officially sent that opinion by Brussels.”

Salmond’s aides did not download the letter, which was sent to them as a PDF attachment by Newsnet Scotland.

However Carrell’s claim that the significance of a communication, that has been confirmed as valid and whose contents challenge claims being promoted by Unionists, is somehow discredited because it was revealed by Newsnet Scotland is – from a journalist – is quite bizarre.

Would the communication be more significant merely because it had been revealed by the Herald for instance or the Scotsman?  How would Carrell view such a communication if it were revealed by the Huffington Post or the Scottish Review, both online sites?

The letter’s validity should have been the only thing concerning any self-respecting journalist.

Notable examples of citizen journalism reporting from major world events are, the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 2013 protests in Turkey, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.  Would Carrell claim that these reports were undermined because they were initially the result of online citizen journalism?

Carrell’s view of pro-independence online journalism was probably best captured in this embarrassing interview he gave on Newsnight Scotland after another pro-independence website had faced threats of litigation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4P0Wx1Eu6OU{/youtube}

In the interview he says: “There’s a clash between the way that professional journalists and news organisations would operate and the way in which campaigners (sic) are operating.  And the campaigners perhaps haven’t quite had the experience, knowledge and legal advice that may have prevented some of the problems they are now encountering.”

It should be noted that no legal action was ever taken against National Collective, nor has there been any taken against any of the outlets Carrell indirectly referred to.

However the news organisations he lauded in his interview presumably includes the BBC who this week is revealed to have misled viewers over an interview given by Irish Minister Lucinda Creighton in January.  Indeed the overwhelming amount of misinformation that is infecting the independence debate comes from these so-called professional journalists, much of it deconstructed and exposed by another pro-independence site Wings Over Scotland.

The BBC Trust ruling was exclusively revealed on Friday by Newsnet Scotland but has, thus far, been ignored by the professionals.  Perhaps that ruling is now also undermined because it was exclusively revealed by non-professional journalists.

Citizen journalism has been defined as that which was once the audience now becoming the reporter.

It remains to be seen what impact ordinary citizens can make in this independence debate.  One thing is for sure though and that is that sites such as Newsnet Scotland are now players and as such are deemed legitimate targets by a pro-Union media and the politicians they support.