On Saturday night, the information age presented the Baltimore area with a highly unusual situation.
Local blogger Frank James MacArthur, aka A.F. James MacArthur or Baltimore Spectator, was involved in a standoff with police, who were trying to take him into custody for allegedly violating probation. He has since been taken into custody on gun possession charges stemming from weapons found in the home after the standoff ended.
Whereas a decade ago, the information would have predominantly come from television networks and the websites of major news publications. MacArthur used online tools available to tell his side of the story.
MacArthur, who considers himself a journalist and activist, updated his Twitter account with play by play as to what was happening to him. He also took to www.spreaker.com, which allows people to live stream audio over the Internet, to broadcast his discussions with a police negotiator.
Many people consider it a testament to the power of the Internet to give voice to those the so-called mainstream press allegedly ignores. Some Patch readers posted supportive messages in the comments section on a story about the standoff.
“What truth has Mr. MacArthur blogged about that has set the police on such a rampage??? Think about it,” commenter Lee Titford wrote.
But not everyone is such a fan, or feels that citizen journalists could or should replace professionals.
David Zurawik, the Baltimore Sun’s media critic, wrote a column warning that MacArthur’s actions show the dangers of losing traditional media, including his newspaper, and replacing it with so-called citizen journalists running blogs and streaming online video and audio.
"And all of you mainstream media haters who fall on your schadenfreude knees each night praying for the demise of the Washington Post or The Baltimore Sun, this is the guy who is going to be bringing you information about your world if your prayers are ever answered. Good luck with that," Zurawik wrote.
What do you think of the role of “citizen journalists” in the social media age? What do you think the future holds for professional journalism? Tell us in the comments.