“When everyone is a journalist, no one is a journalist”: Ira Basen

In a CBC column, Ira Basen writes about the rise (and consequences) of
citizen journalism, which played out on the streets of Toronto during

Basen writes:

“For the longest time, only a small handful of media companies in Canada had the capacity to distribute content to local or national audiences.”

Journalism, he says, came with certain privileges: if you’re captured during a war, the Geneva Convention protects you from being treated as a spy; conference organizers would ensure you had the proper equipment to do the job; press passes would open otherwise closed doors and often earn the holder free meals, among other things.

But as the club becomes less exclusive, it has “muddied the waters considerably when it comes to defining what journalism is, and who does it.”

Basen writes:

“What was striking about the violent protests that accompanied the summit was how little media accreditation seemed to matter to the Toronto police. Journalists for the National Post, the Globe and Mail and CTV were all detained at some point during the weekend.

“Ironically, in the days before the summit, the mainstream media’s greatest security concern centred around the protesters, not the police. The Toronto Star warned its reporters to “hide press credentials until you need them. Protesters often don’t like the ‘corporate media.'”

“Indeed, TV trucks from both the CBC and CTV were attacked by protesters, in what were surely not random acts of violence.”

Basen continues:

“Today, in the aftermath of the G20 confrontations, much of the anger currently directed at the Toronto police revolves around its treatment of people who, until recently, would never have been considered to be members of the media club: bloggers, the so-called citizen journalists and people reporting for “independent media” sites.

“Dozens of those individuals claim to have been roughed up, abused, arrested or detained under very difficult circumstances.”

“Most of them did not have official summit accreditation, and their pleas to police officers that “I’m a journalist” generally fell on deaf ears. Indeed, some of them have argued that they were singled out for special mistreatment because they declared themselves to be journalists.”

“Police deny this, but what happened on the streets of Toronto that weekend might mark a turning point in the way that journalists of every stripe can expect to be treated in an age when the tools of media production now belong to everyone.”

Basen goes on to explain that Jesse Rosenfeld, who was beaten and arrested by police (which eyewitness and TVO host Steve Paikin called unprovoked and unjustified), has been identified by the press as a writer for the UK’s The Guardian when he in fact writes for a Guardian site called Comment is Free, where “just about anyone can say just about anything they want.”

Basen notes that most of the changes journalism has faced due to social media have been positive, including the democratization of media, although it has unintended consequences that were exposed during the G20.

“Perhaps the best way of understanding police behaviour at this juncture is to recognize that almost everyone in that crowd had some sort of camera-equipped mobile device, which meant that, in the minds of the police, almost everyone was a potential journalist.”

The actions of Toronto’s police show a shift that should not be under-estimated, Basen writes. “When everyone is a journalist, no one is a journalist.”