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.