Other common names: participatory journalism, “we media”, grassroots journalism, civic journalism, or community journalism
An alternative form of journalism has taken center stage across the world as honesty and transparency in news reporting has become more valuable to our information-saturated culture. This movement, known as citizen journalism has become a means through which events can be properly documented, and individuals can share their first-hand experience. As our culture begins to rely more heavily on these primary accounts to tell a more complete story, it is important to understand our role as instruments in news gathering and reporting to make sure justice is administered properly.
So what exactly is citizen journalism?
The term is relatively new, but has grown with the popularity of social media platforms. Citizen journalism consists of any sort of gathering or collecting, circulation and interpretation of news by the general public through online channels.
Basically, it’s anytime people just like you and me use social media or online networks to share information on events based on our own observations and opinions.
This type of journalism is on the rise because of our increasing ability to effectively use our technology – more specifically, our smartphones. The movement is an attempt to incorporate more of the public’s interest into matters of the community. The hope is that writing and reporting from the point of view of the ordinary citizen will enhance principles of accountability and trust.
Why is it important or useful?
Citizen journalism is useful and meaningful for many reasons.
Part of the reason behind the surge in citizen journalists is the rising crisis of credibility within professional news organizations themselves. Audiences are not sure which channels or organizations to trust anymore. Traditional news stations are more commonly reporting with a specific or biased agenda behind its motives and audiences want to know what they are consuming isn’t tainted by any subjective preconceived notions.
This kind of news reporting is a citizen’s effort at bridging this gap between the general public and knowing how to stay informed on current events. It is considered a supplement of the mainstream journalism practices as it allows citizen journalists the freedom to openly express their concerns surrounding and issue that mainstream media may not cover.
Journalism as a public service becomes even more relevant in the context of its investigative or “watchdog” nature. Citizen journalism has the potential to enable every citizen who has a news sense, or at least who can report an event, to become a journalist of their own caliber.
After all, pictures and first hand witnesses contribute to better and more complete coverage, and can also put professional journalists under pressure to become more ethical and careful in their practices. Overall, it strengthens democracy by getting more people involved in the dissemination of accurate information.
Things to beware of
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with the concept; ultimately, the more information the better. But there is much criticism surrounding the lack of regulation and consequences involved in letting just anyone report the news.
Critics cannot justify the risk of letting potentially biased, misleading or inaccurate information spread like virtual wildfire among online networks. This is what makes the lack of media literacy among the public the most dangerous aspect of citizen journalism.
Unfortunately, the general public on social media can’t or doesn’t take the time to find out if the information they are seeing online is true or not. They tend to consume information the same way regardless of the source of the information, oblivious to the fact that it is each person’s responsibility to identify what is quality information from what is not.
Some argue that giving a louder voice to the people takes authority away from what the duty of a news organization is. The lack of verification among citizen journalists leads to the possibility of mistakes and intentional deceit.
You may be asking yourself how you can become more involved. Citizen journalism is all around us and is only going to continue to grow and become a bigger part of the way we receive and consume media.
If you use social media to tell what’s going on in your community or to shed light on events around you, you’re doing the work of a citizen journalist. Reporting on what you observe and witness adds essential strokes to a greater picture that adds detail to further validate truth.
Take a look at what your local community is saying about current events, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are there events that aren’t covered by traditional new stations?
- What differences do you notice in the reporting style or pictures taken, if any?
- How are both styles important to achieving thorough coverage?