Also known as grassroots, networked, open source, participatory, hyper-local, bottom-up, stand-alone and distributed journalism, citizen journalism is a concept based on the active participation of readers, viewers and listeners in the process of gathering, selecting, analysing and broadcasting news and information. With such journalism, audience becomes journalists. Rosen (2008) supports the idea when he defines citizen journalism as
when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.1
However, grassroots journalism by its existence and practice raises questions related to its role in the society and the impact it could have on traditional Journalism.
The artcle at hand will try to provide an answer to these two questions. To succeed in the task, the work will be divided into two main parts. While the first part will deal with the role of networked journalism, the second will take on its influence on the conventional one.
1. What is the role of citizen journalism in society?
Though, there is no unanimity and agreement on the name of this method of collecting, analysing and disseminating news by the citizenry for the general public, it is to be noted that its practice has increased over the last decade. And like the traditional journalism, argues Jemima Kiss, it aims to inform and educate, hold people and authority to account, document and interprete development and changes. Citizen journalism is useful to society at two levels. While on one hand it educates and informs the society on the other hand it gives them the opportunity to tell and report their stories.
1.1. Educating and informing the public
For some good reasons, citizen journalism is pinned to Internet as inferred by Mutsvairo et al. (2012)2 though it does not begin nor end online. “Broadcast news … feeds off and incorporates elements of citizen journalism” (Goode, 2009).3 Thus, the phenomenon that is the current focus of attention is present in citizens’ life to educate and inform them.
It has particularly played an important role of educating and informing the population and the outside world on the social protest during the Arab spring when foreign media were banned from reporting. Indeed, blog, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other Internet based social networks and digital-interactive media users have been leakage holes of information from a hermeneutically closed Arabic world, shaken by political unrest and mass protests.
Members of the public, through Internet, organised rallies and mobilised resources that led to the fall of political figures including Presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi of Egypt and Col. Muammar Gadhafi of Libya. In their respective blog posts, Facebook or Twitter messages, not only did citizen journalists update, therefore, inform others on the movement, but also educated them on security methods. Through these examples, citizen journalism has shown its necessity of being, its relevance in the current society and the important role it plays in informing and educating.
On a different note, the story revealed on Twitter by the concerned Avery Edison, a British transgender woman, sent to men’s facility over visa issue in Canada is creating awareness in public opinion on how vulnerable people like Edison can be in the justice system. Equally helpful, is open source journalism in getting first images or alternative story reporting of disasters. Mainstream media reporting on natural disasters always seek news feeds from members of the public to send updates, pictures and/or comments. It was the case when part of England was flooded. The public collaborated in availing pictures and comments thus enabling viewers, listeners and readers to access information and stories concerning the floods. By sharing their experiences, hence engaging in citizen journalism, members of the public not only educate other citizens but also help governments and private institutions in policy making. What other role could citizen journalism play in the society?
1.2. Platform to speak
Besides being a source of information and education, citizen journalism helps members of the public voice their views and tell their stories. The considerable number of community blogs, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts flourishing daily on Internet serve as example. On the fight in Syria and particularly in Aleppo, even though professional journalists were reporting, bloggers had their stories to tell. With the type of journalism in question, one can notice there is a huge variety of sources of information. Indeed, it is now possible to fetch news outside of established agencies like Reuters, Agence France Presse and even public relation officers and police press releases. By giving alternative sources such as community bloggers, eyewitnesses and members of the public a chance to report stories, it equally gives them the opportunity to speak for themselves, and give alternative storyline. Barnes (2012)4 provides example of this when she began her paper with the story of a news release from Jamaica’s Constabulary Communication Network reporting that a man who attacked the police had been shot and killed. The reported version turned out to be false as a citizen began circulating video footage showing the man who allegedly attacked the police seemingly bemoaning, being lashed with truncheon and finally shot and killed while still down, subdued and unarmed.
When showing the role citizen journalism plays, a role that could be qualified as horizontal because of going from the people to the people, its relation with professional journalism has been evoked at many instances. What does it consist of? How does citizen journalism influence traditional journalism? This is the question the following part of the essay will try to answer.
2. The impact of citizen journalism on professional journalism
Although some professional journalists criticise citizen journalism for understandable reasons, it is nevertheless important to note that the two types of journalism sustain a collaborative relationship that can be qualified as vertical. Their relation can be referred to as vertical because the information goes from the bottom; citizen journalist, up to professional ones even if the latter depend on the former to enrich their stories as it was the case at Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 when professional journalists heavily relied on citizens to enrich their narratives. Another example of their collaboration is embedded in the creation of TV and Radio programmes, Websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts by mainstream media to allow people from around the globe to contribute pictures and video of breaking news stories5. With regards to mainstream media adopting alternative platforms other than what they knew, CNN, BBC, The Guardian and France 24, to cite but these, have respectively created I-Report, Your News, Guardian Witness and Reporters to stress the importance of the collaborative relationship between professional and citizen journalism. Your News appeals to BBC’s audience for collaboration when it argues
The part you play in making the news is very important. Whether it is breaking news or a featured item, your contribution can make a difference.6
BBC’s call did, surely, not fall into deaf ears. It receives daily,thousands of images from around the world of both major news events and local issues.7 Video received from around the world included that of passenger Kim Dong-soo waiting to be rescued from the sinking South Korea ferry in April 2014. The video showed very calm people holding to anything they could when the ferry was sinking. Kim Dong-soo showed images that could not otherwise be broadcasted if there was no collaboration between the two types of journalism. The footage of Kim Dong-soo, and previous videos shown by professional journalists help viewers better understand the story. The later example consolidate Dooley (2008)’s argument when he posits:
traditional journalism is the outside looking in. Citizen journalism is the inside looking out. In order to get the complete story, it helps to have both points of view. 8
Despite the collaboration existing between collaborative and traditional journalism, the latter probably views the former as a threat to the profession. The fear, or suspicion, of professionals could be justified, as it is not because somebody can administer first aid that the person is a medical doctor. It takes years of training and practice to become one, and so it is for journalism as well. The discipline is subject to code of practice, ethics and is governed by law. Anybody, aspiring to practice is expected to undergo training, but it is, unfortunately, not the case for collaborative journalists. Taking a picture, a video and giving an account of an event no matter how good the quality, does not make one a journalist but an eyewitness. A journalist will respect the rules of the profession even in photograph taking. Privacy will be respected as well as anonymity when a professional journalist reports, which might not be the case when citizen journalists report, resulting therefore in degrading the profession. Challenges such as one-sided views in politics and current affairs, publications of defamatory material frequent in citizen journalism practices tarnish journalism and portray professional journalist in bad light. After these reflections, what could be the conclusion?
Citizen journalism is to journalism what democracy, the active participation of citizens, in politics and civic life, is to governance. It involves active participation of citizens in newsgathering and reporting. Alternative journalism plays the multiple roles of exposing corruption, encouraging accountability, documenting abuses of power, and giving alternative views on local and international current affairs.
Because citizen journalism is known to inform and educate and report from within crisis so as to enrich traditional journalism for the general public to better understand the story there is no need to emphasise its importance. Collaborating with mainstream journalism, though, would be and added value to it because standing alone it is not credible.
Survey by GlobeScan, commissioned by the BBC and Reuters, found that (…) the most “important” news source was television (56 per cent), followed by newspapers (21 per cent), Internet (9 per cent) and radio (9 per cent). 9
For citizen journalism to have a greater impact on traditional journalism and play an important role in the society, it needs to be organised, bound by rules and codes of ethics, and those who engage in it need to understand the guidelines that must be followed to publish news.
1. Rosen, J. (2008) A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism↩
2. Mutsvairo, B., Columbus, S. & Leijendekker, I., (2012) African Citizen Journalists’ Ethics and the Emerging Networked Public Sphere↩
3. Goode, L. (2009) Social news, citizen journalism and democracy↩
4. Barnes, C. (2012) Citizen journalism vs. traditional journalism↩
5. Wikipedia. (2014) iReport↩
6. BBC (2008) What’s been making your news?↩
7. BBC (2008) What’s been making your news?↩
8. Dooley, P. (2008) The Technology of Journalism: Cultural Agents, Cultural IconsEvanston.↩
9. Butcher, M. (2006) We Media: the citizen journalism dilemma for mainstream media.↩
- Barnes, C. (2012) ‘Citizen journalism vs. traditional journalism’. Caribbean Quarterly, 58(2-3), pp. 16-27.
- BBC. (2008) What’s been making your news?. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/your_news/7606041.stm
- BBC. (2008) Your News, Your Pictures. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014]: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/2780295.stm
- Butcher, M. (2006) We Media: the citizen journalism dilemma for mainstream media. Journalism.co.uk. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014] http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/we-media-the-citizen-journalism-dilemma-for-mainstream-media/s2/a51841/
- Dooley, P. (2008) The Technology of Journalism: Cultural Agents, Cultural IconsEvanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 83.
- Goode, L. (2009) Social news, citizen journalism and democracy: SAGE. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014] Available from: http://ruraleconomics.fib.ugm.ac.id/wp-content/uploads/Luke-Goode-Social-News-Citizen-Journalism-and-Democracy.pdf
- Mutsvairo, B., Columbus, S. & Leijendekker, I., (2012) African Citizen Journalists’ Ethics and the Emerging Networked Public Sphere. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014]: Available from: https://online.journalism.utexas.edu/2012/papers/Mutsvairo.pdf
- Rosen, J. (2008) A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014] http://archive.pressthink.org/2008/07/14/a_most_useful_d.html.
- Wikipedia. (2014) iReport. [Online] [Accessed on 17th April 2014] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IReport