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Citizen Journalism: The People's Press

· Public Affairs,Digital Journalism,Public Relations
Anneshia Hardy | The Hardy Exchange | The Hardy Exchange
Since the discovery of the printing press, underground writers have distributed information regarding injustices through newsletters, brochures, and pamphlets. Unfortunately, these early forms of citizen journalism were restricted to reaching a limited number of people and often carried expensive production costs.
Today, distributing information to millions of people around the globe in seconds has become possible for anyone who can access the internet. As a result, citizen journalists are able to share their experiences around the world and shed light on issues that are not, or could not be covered by mainstream media. Citizen journalists tend to convey themselves into the story. This among other reasons is why citizen journalists are often viewed as citizen activists. For example, websites such as Change.org serve as a platform for community change. They are considered the world’s largest petition platform with more than 70 million users in over 196 countries. Another example is Wiki journalism, as distributed on Wikepdia. In contrast to traditional journalism, which brings news as a finalized story to its audience from the top or management; citizen journalism is more conversational sharing across the board, which allows the story to remain unfinished. Wiki journalism is a web-based forum that grants every day citizens the opportunity to remove, edit, or add content. Both Change.org and Wiki journalism is an example of unfinished news stories. The flow of information is no longer controlled by traditional gatekeepers (management). Instead, the readers have become the reporters, citizens, and journalists. Therefore, citizen journalism could be considered the most democratic form of journalism.
In order for citizen journalism to continue to blossom, technology and socio-culture must continue to evolve. Today’s news audience must continue to contribute to the news; while traditional media outlets must accept the value of citizen journalism and understand how to integrate it in an effective way.
-- A. Hardy
Currently, the universal media market is controlled by approximately 6 global corporations:

Don't fret! There is still hope!

Due to the upsurge of blogging and social media, Citizen Journalism has become a fundamental component in our democratic society. Citizen journalists have become frequent contributors to mainstream news, delivering news and some of today’s most iconic images, especially where traditional/professional journalists have limited access or none at all. While many see this as a chance to advance journalism, others are concerned that too much significance is placed on the citizen journalist personal perspectives which undermines media ethical standards and professional journalism. Supporters of citizen journalism see it as a chance for the news to be more transparent, especially forums that allow their audience to freely fact check and correct its content. Citizen journalism has also become very popular in the political arena. During the 2008 U.S. Presidential election campaign, a citizen journalism TV channel called Current TV partnered with Twitter during the presidential debates allowing viewers to tweet their comments live on the screen. I was one of the many viewers that watched the election via a live stream app that allowed users to comment live on screen. The presentation also included relevant polls throughout the app regarding comments or responses made by each candidate. I believe this was particularly a successful engagement strategy because it created an atmosphere where everyday citizens could speak on a non-bias platform.

Not all mainstream outlets are against citizen journalism; many have encouraged the continuous involvement of citizen journalists in several ways such as:

  • Encouraging comments on existing news stories
  • Crowdsourcing or asking the overall public to give additional information to finish a story or to assist with the fact checking.
  • Solicit content through particular applications on websites or developing a dedicated journalism site, such as CNN iReport. These tactics are not only cost-effective, but makes conducting research more transparent and trustworthy to the news audience.

Although the main objective of citizen journalism is to provide independent, accurate, and reliable information, a citizen journalist could unfortunately miss this objective due to lack of professional training or media ethics. Critics of citizen journalist often point out that these journalists are not professionally trained and not all contributions from citizen journalists follow ethical standards that are upheld by professional journalists. Furthermore, citizen journalists, especially bloggers, typically provide a personal and/or bias perspective of an event or subject matter. Many citizen journalists see themselves as activists, rather than journalists, and may find that certain media ethics do not apply to them. How many times have you read a news story posted by a citizen journalist and thought to yourself, “Mainstream media would never report this…or they would at least sugar coat it?” I previously worked in private asset management and I remember when a citizen journalist or contributor to CNN iReport posted a story stating that Apple CEO Steve Jobs suffered from a heart attack and was being taken to the hospital. During this time, there was already a concern about Steve Job’s health, as a result of the story; Apple’s stock price plummeted to a 17-month low within minutes of the posting. An official Apple spokesperson denied the report and of course Apple’s stock recovered. But this is a great example of why critics of citizen journalism believe that this type of news reporting can prove to be detrimental. In an ideal scenario, the information would have been fact checked or confirmed before releasing such dreadful news. The Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change reported that Business Insider referred to this case as the “first significant test” for citizen journalism. The iReport story and its consequences gave rise to such issues as:

  • Should citizen journalism be treated the same as journalism reported by professionals?
  • Citizen journalists do not have the training and experience of professional journalist, so what standards should they be held to?
  • How quickly should the public believe the content of citizen journalism?
  • How skeptical should news consumers be about citizen journalism? Should professional reporters be even more skeptical?
  • How much skepticism is too much?

In conclusion, citizen journalism can be a blessing and a curse. I forecast that as long as sites such as YouTube, Twitter, FaceBook, and other similar sites provide a platform for uncensored articles, reports, and videos, many citizen journalism news outlets should take the steps needed to become more professional and in compliance. These steps could come in the form of professional advisory boards, hiring professional editors, or creating editorial guidelines. One thing is for sure, they are not going anywhere. Thanks to technology, freedom of press has taken new heights and will continue to climb.

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