(Salina Journal (KS) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 11--With a computer and an Internet connection, or even just a smartphone, anyone can create content and share it with the world, reaching the same potential audience as CNN or the New York Times.
But does that mean anyone can be a journalist?
Answers to that question ranged from "no" to "maybe" at a lunch-time discussion Thursday at Kansas State University at Salina.
The latest of KSU-Salina's Civic Luncheon Lectures, "Technology, Civility and News: Where Are We Headed?" featured Ben Wearing, executive editor of the Salina Journal; Matt Moody, digital media director for the Salina Post, and Paul Green, a long-time journalist who is now media production manager at Kansas Wesleyan University.
Everyone a journalist?
"When everyone has a computer, everyone can call themselves a journalist -- and they're not," Wearing said.
He said that many people who call themselves online journalists are really just providing commentary on events -- and "without journalists, they wouldn't have anything to comment on."
Green pooh-poohed the idea that it takes more than just access to a mass audience to be a journalist.
However, he said, "Learning how to do it properly is the essence. You have to learn the importance of being edited. A mature writer recognizes that editing makes them look better, and an immature writer doesn't.
"I trust journalists. I don't inherently trust everything I see on Twitter from someone who hasn't been through that training."
Green said he sees one important difference between the Salina Post and salina.com, the Salina Journal's website.
"Where do you see on Salina Post who owns it?" Green asked.
He said that a reader might correctly guess that Salina Post is affiliated with a group of local radio stations.
"You can't tell who's responsible for it," he said.
Ext. 333 ended
In the discussion of civility, Wearing talked briefly about the Journal's former Ext. 333 column on the editorial page, which featured short phoned-in comments from readers.
That feature gave a voice to people who might never have written a letter to the editor, Wearing said, but it also included a lot of mean-spirited comments he attributed at least partly to the fact that callers were anonymous.
Journal Publisher Olaf Frandsen ended the Ext. 333 feature not long after coming to Salina two years ago, Wearing said, because he didn't like the anonymity.
News sites similar to Salina Post now operate in nine cities, Moody said, and each has a slightly different practice regarding reader comments.
"In Salina, we have fairly open commenting," he said, and people who make comments can remain anonymous.
"Anonymity is at the core of the Internet," Moody said.
Moody admitted that from a civility perspective, it hasn't always worked as well as he'd hoped.
"We've not always done a good job of keeping the conversation civil," he said. "Some discussions have gone horribly awry."
Ultimately, Green said, questions of civility in online discussions and whether people can remain anonymous when making comments will depend on what the general public accepts.
"It falls back on all of you," he said. "What are we going to do about anonymity? About civility? It's up to you."
-- Reporter Mike Strand can be reached at 822-1418 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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