Why we need a local free press and citizen journalism.

By Dream Angus

There have been a few articles this week relating to the corporate press and media.The worldwide media where Prime Ministers and Presidents consult with media moguls in the run up to general elections and presidential campaigns. At that level the media literally can make or break governments and change the outcome of democratic election processes.

‘Competition watchdog delays initial verdict on 21st Century Fox’s Sky deal’

Press Barons, magnates, call them what you will, they all seem to thrive on power, influence and an ability to control those around them. Citizen Kane (1941) was the famous Hollywood film that first explored this power.

The newspaper baron Charles Foster Kane, one of the richest and most powerful men in America if not the world, dies. A newspaperman digs into his past seeking the meaning of his enigmatic last word: “Rosebud.” He finds evidence of a child torn away from his family to serve Mammon. Grown into manhood, Charles Foster Kane becomes a newspaperman to indulge his idealism. He marries the niece of the man who will become President of the United States, and gradually assumes more and more power while losing more and more of his soul. Kane’s money and power does not bring him happiness, as he has lost his youthful idealism, as has the America he is a symbol for.

It is not Citizen Kane we want to discuss here, but Citizen Journalism and a free local press.

Why is that important? You only have to look as far as Spain to see how the actions of a paranoid central government prioritised the gagging of  the local state media following the referendum in Catalonia recently. Or indeed the imprisonment of journalists in countries like Iran and Turkey to name just a few. Governments and large media outlets work together and if we are not careful can exert undue influence on us.

Cognitive psychologist Robert Sylwester, Ph.D explains

Mass media (MM) play an important role in democratic societies and competitive markets that function through the efficient persuasion of large widespread audiences. It’s no surprise then that governments seek to control MM output, and that many who use MM distort the truth when seeking support for their cause. Mass media have now evolved to the point where conflicting media messages constantly bombard us. How do we select what to attend to and what to believe?

Our brain has to constantly differentiate between what’s currently important (foreground) and what is peripheral and not important (background or context). It does this through an attentional buffer (commonly called our working brain) that allows us to focus on only a few units of information for a short period of time while we figure out their importance within the larger perceptual field.

Mass media often relentlessly focus on what’s within the frame and ignore its context — and in the process  distort its meaning and significance.

The result is that repeated replays of a rare or isolated event that’s emotionally charged come across as being common in the minds of those who can’t get beyond their personal emotion into the event’s context.

For example after the 9/11 World Trade Centre explosions waves of people took to driving 500 miles rather than flying by plane and people stopped sending Christmas Cards because of associated anthrax scares.

It was statistically less safe to drive than fly. In psychological terms mass media moves us from gaining our attention to persuasion in the same way advertising does.


In some countries journalism is seen as a crime if it is not sanctioned and controlled. A free press is good thing for any democratic country but just how free is the press?

This week we observed an intriguing story on how the BBC were going to set up a school based programme to teach pupils how to spot ‘fake news’. The BBC is not without criticism itself as a media outlet. Its reputation was badly damaged in its handling of celebrity sex scandals where it was seen to brush away any suggestion of inappropriate behaviour among its stable of celebrities from Rolf Harris to Jimmy Saville. It was as we know now, proven that the ‘culture’ of the organisation helped paedophiles to cover up their activities. The BBC also has a poor track record in reporting political news. From the Scottish Independence referendum, the EU referendum and general elections, journalists like Nick Robinson, Laura Kuenssberg and most recently Andrew Neil have all been shown to be distorting the news usually in favour of the Westminster Government.

Human beings are creative and come up with other solutions.

The antidote to all of this state/press mass media manipulation is Citizen Journalism.

From the Arab Spring in 2011 to Barcelona in 2017 people have used smart phones to Observe,Listen and Reveal the stories important to their communities and their countries. In a world where global corporate media sets out to manipulate whole populations, citizen journalism provides a more objective reality.

On-line news reporting citizen journalists present alternative viewpoints, context and ideas to news reports.

On-line reporting empowers people by giving them a voice.

Citizen journalism encourages human to human connection and social media facilitates debate and discussion and it’s possible to do it for very little money.


While some citizen journalism can be spontaneous such as this guy here, much of it can be on regular blogging on platforms like the one I am using now.

Many people can work on their own, and some people are extremely good at it. Celebrity George Takei was named the most influential person on Facebook in 2010 but has since become mired in social media financial promotion/endorsement scandals. WordPress is a very user friendly platform and you can be up and running very quickly.

There is another way.


Individual citizen journalists would do better  by linking up with existing local news organisation or creating their own. There is a problem with some existing local press outlets however. This article from 2014 talks about the encroachment of the big corporate press mass media onto small local press outlets. Full article here.

A central plank of journalism is that papers should serve both rich and poor within a community. Yet owners push journalists to appeal to a predominantly affluent audience in order to attract advertisers. This tendency is reinforced by those entering the profession. Journalists used to get trained on the job. Those with writing ability could get taken on as a trainee and learn while receiving a wage. Would-be journalists now have to shell out about £7,000 in fees to get on one of the top courses.  ‘What is really shameful is that ordinary kids have been priced out of journalism because who can afford to fund themselves on a journalism course?’

This certainly rings true today as we see many local papers are swallowed up by bigger companies or simply used as a means of gathering news to feed the bigger titles. Small independent news outlets have started up and are making headway. Orkney News is one such outlet which prides itself on being a community press outlet.

Wherever you live try and find out where your nearest local community press organisation is, or start your own and say bye, bye to traditional journalism. Bye-Bye,Bye-Bye,Bye-Bye.What are you waiting for?


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5 replies »

  1. 1) One thing which always gets me is….something happens, something big and disturbing – whether politically or a ‘natural disaster’. It’s all over the news, maybe too much – de-sensitizing folk? Then…nothing, nada, zilch. The effects are still being felt, the bad stuff may still even be happening, but, when it’s not the immediate news, it disappears from the main arena. You can still track it down, if you try , but it gets even harder, then , to get a ‘fair’ assessment of the situation. I won’t go on and on about this – you get the idea.
    2) I can see that it’s a good thing, when something is caught on a Smartphone which is helpful, and which might not have been caught otherwise, but – It concerns me that there appears to be a tendency for folk to take pictures and films, rather than actually doing anything to help! I may be mistaken, but that’s an impression I get, sometimes, and that is a worrying development.
    3) Social media can be just as biased, and mis-lead people and influence people, just as much as traditional journalism. It’s up to people to look hard at what they’re presented with, about any situation, get different aspects of it, if they can, and assess.
    That form of ‘journalism’ can be just as damaging, as traditional establishment-led journalism. Depends on who’s presenting it, and how they do so.
    It’s a tricky, complicated business – doing your best to figure out what the hell is going on.
    I have a friend who used to work as a film editor for Visnews. He told me that a lot of what we get to see of the news, is what someone, somewhere chooses that we get to see. He had a decided view of journalists, in fact, if he was going to, let’s say ‘empty his tanks’, he’d say “I’m off to give birth to a journalist’. He had the sense to leave all that behind him, and be a house-husband. His brain is still full of news-reels though – he’s still in the war zones. To quote Lorraine Schneider’s poster from the ’60’s – ‘War is not healthy for children or other living things.’ Journalism can have far-reaching effects, on the media-people, as well as the ‘consumers’.
    4) When ‘The Orkney News’ started having adverts – I had mixed feelings. I thought it was only fair that Fiona should get some income, for all the work she puts in, but …….I have a bit of a knee-jerk reaction against ads. at the best of times – them jumping at me from ‘The Orkney News’, wasn’t something I welcomed! It is a double-edged sword though – I do think it’s right that Fiona & Co should get some recompense for their work. I also found the ads. distracting – especially the ones right in the body of the article. There was one with dinosaurs running about, which really bugged me. But, now – I can ignore them! I’ve learnt to block them out. I can read the articles, without the ads. intruding on me. I know, not what the advertisers want, but I am an odd person, with an odd mind, so I don’t think they need to worry about loss of revenue – I wouldn’t buy any of that stuff, from an Internet source, anyway.
    One thing – I thought it was ironic that an ad., right at the end of one of my pieces of writing, was for some kind of ‘tummy flattening‘ gizmo or scheme – my tummy is anything but flat, and I defy any gizmo or scheme to make it other than what it is – Gargantua the Hungry – and I’m very fond of her!
    It provides a platform for many voices, and a wider view of life than ……..the alternative…….. does!

    • Everyone who works for the Orkney News is a volunteer. The income is needed to pay for the website. We were unsuccessful in applying for funding that’s why we had to accept the ads.

  2. There is certainly a need for other voices outside the Murdoch empire and the existing government stranglehold on news, or is it the other way round? I would go with the latter, but there are things we can do. The lies, misdirection, the outright abysmal politics we have seen lately needs a response from the small people. Us. Every small gain they make is to cut you further off from what you want, or need, or what your life depends on. Food for example, necessary in everyone’s life but not so for welfare claimants, apparently. 6 weeks they can do without, or longer if they are naughty and get sick and miss appointments. Come on people, speak up, organise, write, become the media and tell the truth to the world and get attention to the appalling world unfolding in the UK. Pin your MP’s ears back with sharp words and sharper wisdom.

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