Analysis, citizen journalism, digital natives, digitalage, experiment, Guide, Social Media, technology

Citizen Journalism: A Pillar of Understanding

Cited in Vanity Fair

Cited in Vanity Fair

The very term Citizen Journalism reminds me of another term known at Citizen’s arrest which in fact dates back to medieval ages where the law enforcers encouraged ordinary citizens to catch law breakers.
Today, ordinary citizens are encouraged to report what they see or what they gain an insight into and share it with the world that has become so gracefully connected.Before going into this in more depth; ask yourself this question: Why do you trust/not trust citizen journalists?

So what is this ground breaking phenomenon? 

Citizen journalism is whereby ordinary citizens report on issues which matter to them and according to The Guardian (2010), the BBC began collaborating with a citizen journalism group known as Global Voices who are a community of writers, analysts, online media experts and translators who give insights and reports from developing countries. You can learn more about this community here.

I’ll put it in layman’s terms:

Essentially, anyone can now upload content online whether it is through a Blog, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr or other platforms that is of a journalistic nature. Mobile devices such as smart phones have given rise to this phenomenon as well as the likes of newspapers being under financial risk (Nikkanen, 2012) due to the rise of the digital age. This gives viewers faster, and perhaps more up to minute information on developments that concern the said viewers (Fuller, 2014). For instance I can upload a video whereby a large riot occurred in the city centre of Dublin. I could develop on that video and explain what is happening, why it happened and the aftermath of the event a lot like a journalist would capture it, perhaps less professionally. The point being, there exist pros and cons to this form of journalism which need to be understood and its only natural that there would be a divide in thoughts with regards to it. Here is a short video discussing the phenomenon that is Citizen Journalism:

So what are the advantages of Citizen Journalism? Noted by Fuller (2014), the following benefits can come from this type of writing. 

‘Gives another perspective on news or concerns’. Because anyone can report and provide insights for viewers, these journalists are somewhat more connected as digital natives which is part of the global community. Therefore viewers may be more interested in what a normal citizen has to say on topics being discussed online.
For instance, I read a post on the Global Voice which makes contrasts and comparisons between the ongoing Ferguson dilemma in the U.S and what is occurring in the Ukraine. Some shocking similarities were made between justice, human rights and the level of police force used in both locations which are oceans away. You can read more about this here

Cited in Brand Watch

Cited in Brand Watch

‘It helps to get local citizens more engaged in issues affecting their lives’. A prime example would be the recent marches and protests due to the introduction of water charges in Ireland. Videos were uploaded to YouTube showing Gardaí using excessive force during peaceful protests by citizens who stood witness. This did not only show people what was occurring but it also sparked more people to get involved in such matters by joining the protests and rallies.

‘For activism’. Of course citizen journalism can help shed light on issues effecting people’s lives but it also has a domino effect creating activism in a given society. The recent Ferguson dilemma which saw a spread of activism across the U.S is a perfect example of how videos, micro Blog’s and other content can connect people concerned and give rise to an aim of bringing about political, social and legal change. Noted by Buckley (2012), citizen journalism can help shed light on current affairs in society and give viewers ongoing information of the affair in question. Activism can generate much discussion between the citizen journalists and the viewers of the reports which also bring about trending hashtags etc providing a pool of opinion and discussion on such matters.

Citizen Journalists can report on affairs or occurrences that mass media may have no access to or may have missed a portion of a story or event. For example, when the earthquake effected Japan causing the displacement of much of the population and of course the loss of human lives, mass media only had so much information to use when reporting the disaster. People who were trapped due to flash floods and so people trapped video recorded much of the occurrences on hand-held cameras or phones. When these were released, viewers had access to raw footage depicting the sheer gravity of the situation. Additionally, a former news caster Jun Hori revolted by tweeting uncensored material regarding the displacement of 80,000 citizens and the clean up of the area where the nuclear spill occurred (Fukushima) which. Jun Hori explained that ‘“I am a newscaster, but I couldn’t tell the true story on my news program” as the  company restricted commentary on the affair. Due to be restricted warned on what he could report by his supervisors, he quit and set up his own citizen journalism website. He noted that this disaster and censorship surrounding reporting of the event shows that there is a need for people to be proactive in retrieving and releasing information. Nikkanen (2012) mentions that citizen journalists take on tasks previously undertaken by professional journalists but come under pressure from hostile governments. You can read more about his astonishing story here.

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There are obvious disadvantages to citizen journalism. 

To become a journalist, one needs to do a course, study in the field of journalism or receive some formal training. Therefore we need to ask ourselves what formal training have citizen journalists gained? This was noted by Fuller (2014) as one of the cons of citizen journalism. Personally I believe you don’t need training or degree to inform the online community of an issue that you share through Blogging, Micro Blogging, Video Blogging and so on. You are simply the voice, the listener is your audience. I also think that I would listen to a citizen journalist on current affairs but perhaps not issues relating to science etc which require expertise in the field. I would listen to a professional in a field regarding affairs that surround their area of expertise.

Because anyone can become a citizen journalist, ones opinions or interpretations can be biased and inaccuracies of information can exist (Kirkwood, 2013) . I can understand how this is a disadvantage though opinion and critical analysis of situations are valuable facets. Personally, I think that this is an opinion to deter people from relying on citizen journalist reports. Coined by Nikkanen(2012), citizen journalism has become nearly indistinguishable from professional journalism as technology allows immediate transfer of knowledge and information between digital natives.

And so………..

This new phenomenon is clearly becoming more of a normality in today’s society. While I appreciate the reporting by citizen journalists, I still think that professional journalism is required for non biased reporting. Additionally, I find curator journalism astounding and to have a paramount effect on citizen journalism is future years. Curator journalism was also mentioned in an article by Nikkanen (2012), stating that these journalists organise, interpret, fact check and join together posts of citizen journalists to make sense of the abundance of information from several sources for the online audience. Basically, professional journalists taking the credible information of citizen journalists towards their own publishing. Despite this sounding like stealing, it is more of a collectivist approach to information gathering and publication. BBC Brazil blog follows this approach by tapping into social media for news stories . Finally Citizen Journalism allows for the exposure of the truth. A prime example of this is Wiki Leaks whose goal was to release confidential information or records that could be of interest in the public sphere. You can read more about Wiki Leaks as a form of citizen journalism here.

I feel that my own opinion nor other opinions of writers were enough to encapsulate this new phenomenon. I met with an acquaintance Mr. Kim Farrelly to get another insight into the concept of Citizen Journalism. The following is a Q&A with Kim:

Q1. Have you shared or reported online with regards to current affairs of otherwise?

A1. Yes, as a professional photographer I occasionally get paid to take photos of events under a brief from the photo editor.

Q2.Do you think we can trust the information provided by people in the public sphere?

A2. Generally people are trustworthy, however a good gossip in a public sphere can lead to misinformation.

Q3.Because of the digital age, traditional journalism is being challenged and somewhat compared with citizen journalism. Do you think professional journalism will die out and be replaced by citizen journalism?

A3. I don’t think that traditional journalism is being challenged. Print media is for sure. The values that a professional journalist should have would and should never be under threat. There are aspects of the professionalism that will always remain so I don’t see citizen journalism replacing those.

Q4. Search for the truth. Does the case of wiki-leaks as a form of citizen journalism compel you to seek the truth of events?

A4.  The singular and most important part of journalism is fact checking. Leaks from people in their work place have always been a huge part of reporting on events and scandals. These people are vetted and put on record by very experienced professionals. This is a process that is being washed away in recent times by the need to get more competitive in the marketplace by the main new outlets and the drive to get the report out ‘as it happens’. Pushed further by social media as a news stream, this instant news goes without this layer of experience and that is a dangerous shift that could all too easily lead to the control of the news as without true investigative journalism there are a lot of actions out in the world that might never get to light.

Q5. Why is it important for regular people to inform the online community of events? Do you think mass media is censored and journalists are simply following what to report on?

A5. There are always interests to be found in any business, whether they are financial or political, opinions are published based on fact but usually fall on one side or point of view. So I think that there is a place of the ‘regular people’ to report on events as long as point 4 is given the chance to work. The search for truth is often a questionable one.

Q6. Would you encourage people to participate in citizen journalism?

A6. Yes I would, but it only takes the word of two men to hang one – so there has to be responsibility for all and recourse for all too.


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