WordPress can only do so much. To view this report in its intended format and access further content click here.
Citizen journalism is becoming a growing force in today’s media world. The creation of the internet has enabled untrained members of the public to relay information around the world. This has both positive and negative impacts. Citizen journalists can respond with a speed that the legacy media can only dream of, capturing photos and passing information around the world, minutes after an event occurs. Citizen journalists are also able to report on that which is important to them, bypassing the news gatekeepers that are editors. Legacy media can directly benefit from such untrained “journalists” by using photos and other material from them. However, journalistic integrity is questionable in relation to citizen journalists. Citizen journalists have the means to present biased or heavily slanted stories which benefit their points of view, sometimes even unintentionally. The impact that citizen journalism is currently having on journalism and will have on the future of journalism is indeed huge.
Citizen journalism is the gathering, writing, editing, production and distribution of news and information by people not trained as professional journalists (Curtis, 2012). Citizen journalists are often people with a strong sense of community and a desire to make a change. Many see themselves as a better representation of today’s society, believing they bring a voice to the voiceless (Burkholder, 2009). Citizen reporting provides a space for marginalized, alternative and activists social groups.
There are many motivations for citizen journalism. One is a desire to share the truth, to be displayed for the world to see. These people are often in situations that professional journalists are unable cover due to the dangerous nature of the area, like the war in Syria, or extreme restrictions on the freedom of reporters, such as in the case of North Korea. Citizen journalists often put their life on the line to deliver such stories. This a somewhat intentional form of citizen journalism.
Citizen journalism, however, is not always intentional, at least, not to begin with. Last year, community-minded Josh Lynagh set up a Facebook page originally with the idea of posting information relating to local police reports in South Australia’s south east (Hill, 2014) in order to help the district stay informed of crime in the area. He began to cover fire and severe weather warnings for the region as well and eventually people began messaging him about community events. Lynagh, however, has no formal journalism training which has led to a number of issues. One of which is dealing with upset or emotional readers, with some even threatening him through comments and messages to the page. As the sole administrator of the page, he is responsible for how these comments are dealt with and directly feels the impact. On the other hand, the management of news organisations field complaints and threats directed at their employees, dealing with them in a fair and sensible manner. This is under the expectation that their professional journalists uphold the code of ethics that has been explicitly outlined by the employer of each professional. This separation protects the people involved and minimises the chance of an escalation.
Without mobile phones, citizen journalism would not be as advanced as it is today. In regard to broadcast journalism, professional reporters have teams that carry around the bulky equipment needed to record both pieces to camera and capture footage of events. This equipment is both expensive and unwieldy which makes it unlikely for citizen journalists to own, let alone use. This restricts this type of equipment to media professionals. The addition of cameras to mobile phones allowed citizens to take small, grainy photos back in 2000 (Bartley, 2014) that were essentially useless to the legacy media. Over time, however, the quality of these cameras grew. After a small stalling of progress with the introduction of slim smart phones (previous camera phones were significantly chunky), quality began to improve significantly, with the latest iPhone 5S boasting a 8MP camera, a host of settings, adjustments and the ability to record video (Apple, 2014). Along with the addition of the camera, came the ability to share these images wirelessly. This combination proved immensely popular as Canalys reported that over half of the phones sold worldwide in the first 9 months of 2004 had cameras in them, and two-thirds of all the phones shipped in the third quarter were camera phones (Hill, 2013). By 2006, more than half of the world’s mobile phones had cameras and by 2010 the worldwide number of camera phones totalled more than a billion with most mobile phones, even inexpensive ones, were being sold with a camera (Bartley, 2014).In addition to this, the number of active mobile phones is predicted to exceed the world population sometime this year (Pramis, 2013). This indicates the prevalence of cameras in today’s society which makes it easy for ordinary citizens to commit “random acts of journalism”. But, without a platform such as social media in which to share this content alongside opinions, facts and data, it would have been useless.
Social media has been a huge driving factor in the growth of citizen journalism. Social media combines familiarity, with an ability to tell the world anything. As more and more people start using the internet as a main source of national and international news (Pew Research Center, 2011), social media will only continue to grow. Many people already use social media for other purposes, such as communicating with friends and loved ones as well as keeping up to date with celebrities and famous personalities. The most notable example of the latter is Twitter, with 255 million monthly active users (Twitter, 2014). This site has become an essential point of contact between citizen journalists and their professional counterparts. This platform has forced emphasis on quality instead of quantity, leading to brief “tweets” where citizen journalists can break news or share pictures of occurring events, perhaps unintentionally taking on the role of journalist. There has been an exponential growth of professional reporters on Twitter over that past few years, in order to access the content that citizen journalists provide on this platform. However, anyone can create a twitter account and make wild accusations. It is an important skill for journalists to be able to sift through potentially dangerous lies and misinformation, to get to real stories. This was proven when CNN posted that Cyclone Sandy has put the New York Trade Centre under 3 feet of water, as described by Twitter user @ConfortablySmug. While this was an easy rumour to confirm or deny, a CNN reporter chose to pass this information on immediately, without verifying the truth of the matter.This rumour began to spread and even the Weather Channel and Piers Morgan were caught out, before the truthfulness of the comment was called into question (Mahoney, 2012). This error had very real effects. As the untruth spread, the economy dropped and although it recovered, it was a very nervous wait for some people. All of this took place in less than an hour, which shows how large an impact can occur when confirming the accuracy of a source is neglected. It is important for professional reporters to thoroughly confirm any information coming from citizen journalists, just as they would from any other source. Reporting false information negatively impacts the reputation of even the biggest news corporations. Drastic consequences can occur when professional journalists fail to identify the authenticity of a citizen journalist post.
The graph below shows that over the past four years, trust in traditional media, such as daily newspapers and television news and current affair programs, is decreasing, while trust in online news, in the form of internet blogs is increasing.
A strong connection between legacy media and citizen journalists is mutually beneficial.
Legacy media is beginning to use content sourced from citizen journalists more heavily. In the past, requests would be made for photographs and amateur video of newsworthy events by news providers through a number of different channels. This was not very efficient but some content was found this way. As citizen journalism began to thrive, content began to be sourced from this area. A notable example is iReport, a citizen journalism platform hosted by CNN. Their policy stated “we’ve launched an independent world where you, the iReport.com community, tell the stories we’re not used to seeing. And the most compelling, important, and urgent ones may get seen on CNN.” (Leibowitz, 2013) This platform provides CNN with a new resource for finding news. It can be used either as a starting block to begin investigate a story, or to provide photos to complement an existing one. Citizen journalists can provide first-hand contributions during crisis events which is indispensable to news organisations.
Citizen journalists can benefit from legacy media attention. Blogs and social media posts generally have a small audience in comparison to that of newspapers and television stations. When professional journalists report on stories found through their citizen counterparts, it reaches the eyes and ears of many more people. This increases awareness of what is occurring, a positive to many citizen journalists. This means that while citizen journalists break the news, they still need broadcast media to help spread it.
It is important to remember that citizen journalists, while being a good addition to professionals, should not be a substitute for them. Constant cooperation between professional and citizen journalists will result in more compelling stories, that align with stringent ethical standards. As with the innovation of camera phones and social media, perhaps further inventions will assist the evolution of citizen journalism as it continues to be a fascinating component of the media in the 21st century.
By Isaac Parker
Word count: 1598 words (including in-text refernces)
Apple Inc. 2014. “iSight. The world’s most popular camera. With good reason.”. Accessed May 21, 2014. <http://www.apple.com/au/iphone-5s/camera/>
Bartley, A. 2014. ” The Evolution of the Camera Phone”. Accessed May 21, 2014. <http://www.preceden.com/timelines/59618-the-evolution-of-the-camera-phone->
Burkholder, C. 2009. ” Citizen Journalism”. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www.journalismethics.info/citizen_journalism/blogging.htm>
Curtis, A. 2012. “Citizen Journalism”. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www2.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/Courses/ResourcesForCourses/Journalism/CitizenJournalism.html>
Hill, K. 2014. “The rise and fall of citizen journalism”. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2014/05/14/4004510.htm>
Hill, S. 2013. “From J-Phone to Lumia 1020: A complete history of the camera phone”. Accessed May 21, 2014 <http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/camera-phone-history/#!PdZXN>
Leibowitz, M. 2013. ” Drawbacks of Citizen Journalism”. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www.salzburg.umd.edu/lessons/citizen-journalism>
Pew Research Center. 2011. “Internet Gains on Television as Public’s Main News Source”. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www.people-press.org/2011/01/04/internet-gains-on-television-as-publics-main-news-source/>
Pramis, J. 2013. ” Number of mobile phones to exceed world population by 2014″. Accessed May 20, 2014. <http://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/mobile-phone-world-population-2014/#!Pd8Ux>
Twitter, Inc. 2014. “About” Accessed May 20, 2014. <https://about.twitter.com/company>
Image Credits (in order of appearance)