Journalism can never be silent. Its fundamental nature is to speak, to inform. Traditionally, news sources were limited, and newspapers were completely dependent on a reporter’s sources to get a newsworthy story. However, times have changed. Today, everybody is recognizing the power of the people. The rise of this power has wrought changes whenever it has sprung up, and the media hasn’t been able to escape its effects either. The exact opposite is true, in fact, because the media has embraced this power and used it to give birth to a new form of journalism – citizen journalism.
Understanding Citizen Journalism
Citizen journalism refers to the collective action of non-professionals playing an operational role in the process of acquisition, analysis and dissemination of news and information. The concept behind citizen journalism is that common people, through the wonders of who can use modern technology, share their stories and those of the society around them without any professional journalism training.
These enterprising individuals publicize this information using social media, blogs and websites. Citizen journalism has become a worldwide phenomenon, this despite reservations regarding the lack of formal training and the absence of reliability that goes with it. Today, citizens who witness anything newsworthy use smartphones, tablets and other mobile digital paraphernalia to provide instant coverage in text, photos, audio and video formats. This means no matter what the incident, if it happens anywhere close to civilization, chances are it will be captured and shared.
Global Instances of Citizen Journalism
While citizen journalism as a concept has been around for a few decades now, there have been several explosions of this moment worldwide in more recent times.
- Take South Korea (circa 2000) as an example – a country whose citizens were frustrated with the news coverage provided by the prominent mainstream media. Oh Yeon-ho, an online entrepreneur, came up with a solution – he declared that every citizen is a reporter. This wasn’t an idle declaration either, as Oh and his colleagues started an online newspaper, dissatisfied as they were with the South Korean press. ‘User-generated content’ was the fuel that fired this website, OhmyNews, for years to follow, and runs successfully to this day. You can see them here (English) and here (Korean).
- The 2010 earthquake in Haiti saw another wave of citizen journalism where the whole world had access to real-time updates (allowing for more concentrated search and rescue operations among other things).
- The socio-economic Occupy Wall Street protest of 2011 also received worldwide coverage, thanks mainly to citizen journalism.
- Then there is the Arab Spring that spanned 2010-2012 that had received major citizen journalism impetus, as did the Euromaidan protests in Kiev in 2014.
- Other notable examples of recent times are the ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ movement in Iraq, and the Ferguson unrests in the US both of which were brought to the public eye through efforts of the local populace.
These are not isolated examples either, because the internet has given rise to thousands of news sites and millions of bloggers across the globe. In fact, such has been the profligacy of internet-based citizen journalism portals that traditional news media have had to scamper to catch up and create separate sections on their websites where readers and the public at large can contribute with local news.
The Past, the Present, and the Future
All of this was but a distant dream in the days before the internet. News publishing technology could only be accessed directly by fulltime journalists, and the citizenry was limited to a “Letters to the Editor” section in the newspapers where only a small portion of cherry-picked opinions were allowed to enter into print. High-speed access to the web, and devices that allow access to them anywhere and anytime have now turned news dispensation into a global phenomenon.
After all, the internet is not restricted by international boundaries.
Despite the global reach of the internet, it has also afforded local and niche news a place in the limelight. Community portals, small sectional and regional news sites and other such efforts have altered the news presentation dynamics.
Citizen journalism is also a great way to gauge the mood and the feelings of the crowd. While there is an inherent bias in these reports, they do represent the views of the people, as opposed to those of a single editorial team, and give everyone consuming this news an idea of what these views are.
Long live citizen journalism!