Is Rob Ford a victim of citizen journalism gone wrong? -

Is Rob Ford a victim of citizen journalism gone wrong?

Jesse Brown on the promise and pitfalls of modern storytelling


Remember the dream of citizen journalism? Here is how its founding thinkers defined it, way back in ancient internet history:

“Every citizen is a reporter.”

— Oh Yeon Ho, founder of Korea’s OhmyNews  (2000).

“When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”

— Jay Rosen, professor of Journalism, New York University (2008).

The dream was bold and lofty, but it was not flaky. After all, these press tools were no fantasy. Cheap smartphones were just around the corner — each as equipped as a professional news crew to capture live events in text, sound, photo and video and easily able to broadcast  to the world. Phones are actually better than a news crew, not just because they’re so portable, but because of who is using them — everyone, everywhere. How could you anticipate the spread of hundreds of millions of these things around the world and not expect a revolution in news gathering?

So it has come. But it isn’t exactly what was bargained for. Here are some citizen journalists using their press tools to inform their fellow citizens last summer:


It’s not the most uplifting spectacle.

Whoever shot the Rob Ford crack tape was also using press tools to inform society about a matter of urgent public interest. The fact the video’s subject was exploited while intoxicated and the resulting scoop shopped around to different news organizations in search of the highest bid does little to distinguish those behind it from other freelance reporters.

Back in the early days of social media, when the jargon flowed a bit more freely, we spoke excitedly about the promise of ProAm journalism, where professional journalists would collaborate with civic-minded amateurs. The “people” would do the news gathering, the “pros” would provide verification, context and analysis. This too has come to pass in a more frightening form than most imagined. The Toronto Star‘s citizen collaborators were shady, druggy shakedown artists, not crusading samaritans. The Star is in a vindicated, self-congratulatory mood since Bill Blair and then Ford himself validated their story, all of which puts perhaps too much focus on a paper that, despite tons of top-notch followup, basically acted as middle-man for the news that mattered most. Reporters are getting book deals, editors and publishers are preening, while those who truly broke this story — and their motives — remain in shadows.

But what did we expect? We were kidding ourselves if we thought people-powered journalism would be nobler than the old kind. The smartphones pointed at Rob Ford are held by people with all manner of intentions — gawkers, schemers, manipulators, attention-hounds and more. It can be ugly, but it’s proven effective.

The truth has come out.  Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have.

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Is Rob Ford a victim of citizen journalism gone wrong?

  1. ‘The truth has come out. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have,’

    And that’s the point.

    • and Bill Clinton?

      • That was Drudge.

        • And a blue dress with semen on it that was DNA tested.

          • I repeat…that was Drudge

  2. Taking a photo and putting it on social media isn’t really “journalism” though.

    • …or attempting to write a story about same.

  3. Actually he is. He has liberal journalists, union cops, city unions, mafia, SNC and others that want him out.

    Given cops spend more efforts on Ford and his friends than organized crime, well, that says it all.

    Look at the bright side, I have no doubt people were trying to extort Ford and he didn’t cave in to sell us out. He let his morals win.

    But then hey, liberal “other peoples money” types will no see the obvious. They just want free access to other peoples wallets.

    Go Ford go, you show how morally and ethically corrupt the left real is. Don’t see them going after Trudeau, Chretien (sponsorship) or the low rent counselor like this…..

    Sorry Toronto, it isn’t just Quebec and its cities that are corrupt.

    • Please justify why you think the Toronto police spend more effort on the investigation into the Mayor than organized crime. You are wrong, but I look forward to your arguments.

    • Are you so sure the two don’t overlap? Given the now-verified drug connection, I wouldn’t be so quick to bet there isn’t some kind of tie between the two worlds.

      • Indeed, the two clearly overlap. People who make the argument that the police are spending too much time targeting Ford are conveniently forgetting that the police had the Dixon City Bloods, and Lisi, and that crack house all under surveillance BEFORE the story about the video came out on Gawker. When Ford called Lisi 7 times on the day the video story broke police were listening in on the calls because they ALREADY had Lisi’s phone tapped. The police had these guys under surveillance for MONTHS before the public knew about the crack video.

        It’s not the fault of police that when they started listening in on the phone calls of drug dealers, the mayor’s voice started turning up. The police aren’t to blame that the drug dealers and gun-runners they had under surveillance were meeting with and hanging out with the mayor.

        This notion that the police were targeting the mayor is NONSENSE. The police were targeting drug dealers, gangsters and gun runners. The fact that the mayor started showing up on their wiretaps and in their surveillance photos is no one’s fault but the mayors.

    • “He has liberal journalists, union cops, city unions, mafia, SNC and others that want him out.”

      And they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if he DIDN’T GET PLASTERED IN PUBLIC, DO CRACK and HANG OUT WITH CRIMINALS.

    • He’s moral? He’s moral?

      Jesus, I get you don’t like the left — maybe with justifications — but come on man, Rob Ford is simply not defensible as a mayor or in any professional position.

    • There have been a lot of Ford-the-victim stories crafted since this story first broke. This one might just top them all. Priceless.

    • Given cops spend more efforts on Ford and his friends than organized crime…

      I believe that the issue is that it seems that Ford’s friends are ENGAGED IN ORGANIZED CRIME.

      The whole “why are Ford and the people he associates with being investigated when there are gangs out there that the police should be fighting” question loses a lot of weight when you realize that many of the people that Ford has been associating with are GANGSTERS.

    • Only u and mamolitti wanna go on the attack when your so called moral mayor is acting like every liberal journalist wrote he did and he called them maggots and you wanna defend a guy who lied to you morally though, its only shows how moronic you and every onr who enables our mayor. I suppose u think unions are entitled but we are working people who have lots to lose in life if we act in this manner. Cause we aren’t rich. Well screw u and the horse u rode in on you scum bag. Do you think this mayor has ever had to find employment and if he did go to the private sector who he get hired? I think not so stop ur crying man up and stop defending a rich spoiled brat who lies as much as he talks.

    • Didn’t hear you complaining when Blair, Bubbles and all the other Charter denying thugs in blue were beating on innocent citizens the day after they ran and hid while real criminals/undercover cops tore the city apart?
      Now they are actually doing their job and your idol has become implicated with evidence to back it up, all of a sudden you question their motives?
      Ethics is just a county in England to you isn’t it you dimbulb?

  4. “The Toronto Star‘s citizen collaborators were shady, druggy shakedown artists, not crusading samaritans.”

    “The smartphones pointed at Rob Ford are held by people with all manner of intentions — gawkers, schemers, manipulators, attention-hounds and more.”

    An unstated but implied vector in your argument is the rise of The Cult of Individualism and The Market, where the driving principles become competition and profit. Ford rose to power on the idea that Government is corrupt and wasteful, that individuals competing against each other matter more than groups working together.

  5. The Toronto Star‘s citizen collaborators were shady, druggy shakedown artists, not crusading samaritans.

    Sure, but in a story about the fact that the mayor has been spending an inordinate amount of time getting drunk with shady, druggy, shakedown artists, who should we expect the sources to be?

    • Indeed. Were the shibboleth of citizen journalism not at issue here, who would the professional reporters be expected to be working with for their information?

  6. Two rules of thumb for life:

    1. If it can be exploited, it WILL be exploited
    2. Things will eventually always trend to the lowest common denominator

    Anyway, the premise of this story is off. Just because a video was made doesn’t mean they were “citizen journalists”. This type of story–someone has sordid info, press digs out the story–has been going on for a long, long time. In the past it was incriminating photos, or diaries, an article of clothing left behind, or something else. Today it just happens to be video evidence instead.

  7. While you look at the history of the journalism profession with rose coloured glasses the truth is that many journalists have been in bed with political parties and shady characters throughout history.

    • No kidding. I mostly like this chap’s insights, but the true dealings of journalism ain’t one. Pixels v. ink? As long as it lasts, ink every time.

  8. Even JFK was exposed as a philanderer.

    • Your point?

      Surely you aren’t comparing Ford to JFK…

      • Apparently you are.

        • No; I’m contrasting.

    • Frank Mahovlich scored 48 goals in 1961. Cardinals are red. I have two feet.

      • Cardinals are not red. Only the male is red. The female is mostly brown with a little bit of orange or yellow tinge. There is in fact no red on the female at all.

        Frank Mahovlich did not score 48 goals in 1961. That was the 60/61 season, not the year 1961. Secondly, he scored 1 in the playoffs so it was 49 goals, not 48.

        God knows whether you actually have two feet.

  9. “The truth has come out. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have”

    Well, that’s bullshit, and lazy, lazy writing.

    10 years ago, someone would have snapped a digital picture. Forty years ago, someone would have been flogging a polaroid.. A century ago, the source would have been offering up a shocking daguerreotype.

    The press tools change, sure. people don’t.

    • And a hundred years ago, they’d have had the preliminary sketches….
      Seriously? Use the grey thing between your ears.

      • And you’ve missed the point. The only one I made. Clearly.

        • you and Harper keep using the word clearly.. but I’m not sure it means what you think it does.

          • About that. Go back to the part where i call out the main argument of the story as bull. Note that i give a reason.

            Then note that you respond by simply saying “Seriously?”, and ask yourself who has issues with clarity.

  10. Why is it that the answer to almost every lede posed as a question is “no”? This one is no exception.

  11. Of course, Rob Ford is a victim of our Torontocentric leftist media, since he is a conservative. May it be noted that we are all fed up with the media rant over Mr Ford. Most of us simply don’t care. It shows that the Torontocentric media is only concerned with Toronto as opposed to the rest of the country.. Are they all too lazy to find any worthwhile news in the rest of the country???

    • Unfortunately for Rob and Steve, these days everyone has cellphones and is connected to the news, so it’s harder for politicians like them to run and hide. As Jesse says – not sure if you read that far – ‘The truth has come out. Ten years ago, it wouldn’t have.’ And we’re not talking about the leftist media videoing the Ford high, we’re talking guys like you, David.

    • You do realise that it has gone beyond the realms of media speculation and once the media was shown to have got it right it becomes facts.
      How will you explain the point of being honest to your kids? “you have to tell the truth and uphold the law, unless you are a Conservative politician then everything is fine?”