Readers are involved in journalism like never before, participating in what some call "citizen journalism," where they are now contributing to the news by posting comments, writing blogs and snapping photos.

"This is your town, your neighborhood, your life," said Laura Sellers, who oversees Seaside-sun.com, a site with nearly 90 percent of the content coming from community members. "It should be your stories and your photos."

Sellers joined a panel of journalism experts at the Thomas W. Pyle First Amendment Forum at Southern Oregon University Wednesday night. Professional journalists, professors and students have gathered at this yearly forum since the 1980s to explore current issues in the field and monitor the interpretation of the First Amendment.

Other panelists included Ben Sherman, editor of The Oregonian's Oregonlive.com; SOU Professor Dennis Dunleavy and Ronald Collins, a lawyer and scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington D.C.

Panelists were divided on how new technologies would affect society.

"I think we are on the edge of a whole new way of being," Dunleavy said, describing how the Internet, cell phones and digital cameras have changed lives and modes of communication. "It's happening and it's not going to stop."

But Collins compared the emerging equipment to the printing press, which he said convinced people that the world as they knew it was about to take a turn for the worst. Instead, it was a new tool for the same kind of communication.

Regardless of the future of journalism, the new citizen or community journalism has raised issues in the present, particularly the distinction between professional reporters and the man on the street.

"The bloggers and the journalists are going to have to learn to play nice together and realize we have a bigger story to tell," Sellers said. Seaside-sun.com publishes content from The Daily Astorian alongside community members' postings on business news, school awards and book sales, forcing a discussion on how to label the source of news.

When Oregonlive.com first introduced forums where people could post comments as long as they had a valid e-mail address, The Oregonian staff was angry that nothing was edited, Sherman said.

"It's tough because ultimately I'm responsible for everything that's posted on that site, but at the same time, you really have to trust your community," Sherman said. "You lose a ton of credibility with your users if you edit comments."

Prior to the panel discussion, Collins offered an update on Supreme Court decisions regarding the First Amendment. The decisions handed down harmed free speech rights for students, prisoners and whistle-blowers, while widening the freedoms of commercial speech and campaign contributions.

Although he offered a pessimistic outlook on future protection of speech and press, he looked toward the Internet for hope, taking a wider view than just its role in citizen journalism.

"When you look at the Internet, there are many good signs," he said. " and large it is unregulated."

The Ashland Daily Tidings sponsors this forum each year.

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