Citizen Journalism

In the last 60 years, the role of journalism has transformed from strictly professional to a more fluid and democratic role in which the lines between journalism and consumer are blurred. This shift can be traced back to a single, accidental citizen journalist who found himself unexpectedly recording a famous presidential assassination. In this article, we will discuss the evolving role of Citizen Journalism with a definition, some examples and the benefits of this type of journalism.

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Table of contents

    The Definition of Citizen Journalism

    Citizen journalism is defined as a phenomenon in which individual members of society create news content. Laypeople without a background in journalism gather, develop, distribute and share news content, occupying the role previously held by professional journalists. It is a reversal of the traditional journalist-audience relationship.

    That news occurs in a variety of ways, most of which are intimately connected with the advent and widespread use of the internet and social media. These include personal blogs, citizen-led websites, vlogs, memes, podcasts, pirate radio broadcasts, printed media, and more. Content is shared through individually owned websites or social media accounts.

    Citizen JournalismThe gathering and sharing of news by members of the general public. Typically this takes place via social media channels and the internet.

    New York Times Newsroom Citizen Journalism StudySmarterTraditional Journalists, Janeb13, Free for commercial use. No attribution required. Via Pixabey

    Types of Citizen Journalism

    There are four types of journalism. Examples of each type can be found in both professional and citizen journalism:

    • Print
    • Broadcast
    • Internet
    • Photo

    Print Journalism

    Print journalism involves a written account being reproduced. Professional journalists publish and hard copy or online newspapers and magazines while user-generated newsletters, indy zines, posters, and flyers are examples of citizen journalism.

    Broadcast Journalism

    Broadcast journalism uses a video or audio format to report the news, which is typically featured on television, radio or the internet. It is typically delivered on television, radio or the internet. Citizen journalist broadcasts are largely found on independent and social media.

    Internet Journalism

    Internet journalism is the publishing of news online, commonly on a news network website and shared using social media. Citizen journalists use the internet to publish content via blogs, websites, and social media. The internet is the most common format for citizen journalism.

    Photojournalism

    Photojournalism takes a visual approach to reporting news which can be disseminated using print, video broadcast, or the internet. Professional photojournalists publish their images in newspapers, magazines, on television, or news websites. Citizen journalists share their images on the internet as well as physically print or post them.

    Citizen and Professional Journalists: Side by Side

    Citizen journalists can work independently through blogs, websites or social media or alongside professional news journalists. Citizen journalists often work in collaboration with professional news by using the comments section on published articles, live blogging, or crowdsourcing. Citizens often share their opinions in the comments section of a professional digital news article. This makes the article more of a conversation capturing the report of the newscaster, as well as additional voices.

    Liveblogging involves user-generated content about a live event or incident such as a sports event or protest.

    For example, a journalist might ask attendees at a protest to share their views or a passerby to give their opinion or pictures.

    Crowdsourcing involves gaining support from numerous people for a project or initiative. This involves asking the public to help tell a story. A journalist might solicit the public to contribute information about a large topic.

    For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, mass media networks crowdsourced viewers' experiences with the disease.

    The History of Citizen Journalism: Abraham Zapruder

    Abraham Zapruder was a video spectator at the 1963 motorcade during which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. He inadvertently turned into a citizen journalist by capturing a 26-second segment of the assassination on film. This was possibly the first time an act of violence against a prominent figure was taken on color film. He ultimately sold his recording to Life Magazine for $150,000. It was later moved to the National Archives.

    Abraham Zapruder Kennedy Assassination Citizen Journalism StudySmarterAbraham Zapruder's Video Camera, via National Archived and Records Administration, Public Domain

    The Benefits and Costs of Citizen Journalism

    Citizen journalism has greatly changed the way news is generated and consumed. This shift has come with both benefits and drawbacks. Citizen journalism has been viewed by some as a positive step that could potentially democratize the reporting of news. Journalists sometimes research user-generated news sources to identify important stories as well as to develop content. Professional journalists have adapted the strategies by which they reach people to include citizen-journalist style media. This includes the use of blogs, social media, and the development of more local, ground-level coverage.

    Benefits

    Costs

    Citizen Journalism

    • New is shared more quickly providing up-to-the-minute coverage of important events
    • Can counteract censorship
    • Greater diversity in news reporting
    • Citizen-driven news isn’t fact-checked so it may not provide accurate or reliable information
    • Lacks the quality assurance available to professional journalists

    Benefits of Citizen Journalism

    Citizen journalism has dramatically changed the pace at which news is shared. For instance, in cases of disaster, war, crisis, or special events, coverage can be elicited immediately from people on the scene. This information can be accessed more readily and immediately.

    Another advantage is that user-generated content can sometimes counteract censorship which major news sources struggle in some parts of the world. An example of this can be observed in China during the initial development of the COVID-19 pandemic. Citizen journalists documented and shared what they were witnessing using social media while the Chinese government made attempts to suppress this information.

    Since anyone can become a citizen journalist, diversity in news coverage has increased. A wider range of perspectives are now readily available.

    Costs of Citizen Journalism

    Citizen journalists have undoubtedly broadened the scope of where news comes from. While no longer limited to professional journalists, at times, the accuracy and reliability of user-generated content have come into question. A citizen journalist might not thoroughly investigate or verify information before sharing it, leading to the spreading of misinformation.

    Although conventional journalism can be biased as well, bias in citizen journalism can sometimes go unchecked.

    Furthermore, some journalists question the quality of the news content produced by citizen journalist, seeing citizen journalism as something which compromises the professionalism of the field.

    Examples of Citizen Journalism

    Example 1: Mexico

    Known to be the most deadly place for journalists, media professionals are targeted by the government as well as criminal syndicates who want to control the discourse that is published about life in Mexico. In some cases, citizen journalists are able to counteract censorship, threats, and violence. Citizen journalist Maria del Rosario Fuentes Rubio used social media to share information about the activities of drug traffickers in Mexico. Her 2014 assassination highlights the immense risks some citizen journalists take to report on the ground-level happenings of their communities.

    Example 2: The AIDS Crisis

    An example of citizen journalism that came about before the widespread use of the internet involved the LGBTQ+ communities of San Francisco, New York, and other cities which were facing a crisis of HIV infection during the early 1980s. Members of these groups shared information about their observations and needs around the epidemic in the form of flyers, bulletins, and community-based news publications. This form of citizen journalism eventually influenced public awareness about HIV/AIDS as well as the push for successful preventative measures and treatment of the disease through the use of combination therapy.

    Citizen Journalism Egyptian Revolution StudySmarter

    Arab Spring Protest 2011, anonymized, Wikimedia Commons, Paulina Bial, CC-BY-SA-4.0

    Example 3: The Egyptian Revolution

    Another example of citizen journalism took place in Egypt in 2011. Referred to as the start of the Arab Spring, the social media and networking platform Facebook was used to organize activists who were against longstanding president Hosni Mubarak. The protests that followed led to Mubarak being removed from office.

    Citizen Journalism and Social Media: Twitter

    Citizen journalists have taken full advantage of various social media sites to share a wide variety of news content. Twitter, in particular, has a key position in up-to-the-minute citizen journalism. This has been the case since it was used in 2009 to coordinate post-election protests in Iran. This incident the power of social media to override censorship and government suppression of dissenting viewpoints. It is the go-to site for real-time news during sports and entertainment broadcasts as well as political events. Professional journalists frequently repost tweets from users to provide different opinions on their stories.

    Citizen Journalism - Key takeaways

      • Citizen journalism is where ordinary members of society create and distribute news, typically through the internet and social media.
      • Four types of journalism are print, broadcast, internet and photo. Professional and citizen journalists produce content across all of these types.
      • Abraham Zapruder unintentionally became a citizen journalist when he filmed President Kennedy’s assassination.
      • Advantages of citizen journalism include up-to-the-minute reporting, greater diversity in reporting and the ability to overcome censorship in certain cases.
      • Disadvantages of citizen journalism are questionable accuracy of content, bias and threats to the traditional role of a journalist.
      • Twitter is a leading social media network for citizen journalism, providing the opportunity for real-time reporting during crises and important events.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Citizen Journalism

    What are the advantages of citizen journalism? 

    Citizen journalism facilitates immediate responses to newsworthy events, includes voices that may not have otherwise been heard and can challenge censorship in certain instances.

    Why is citizen journalism important?

    Citizen journalism has deeply impacted the way news is created and consumed. It has removed the distinction between journalist and viewer. 

    What is meant by citizen journalist? 

    A citizen journalist is a layperson (someone not trained as a professional journalist) who generates and distributes news content, typically through social media. 

    What are the four types of journalism?

    Print, broadcast, internet and photo.

    Why is Abraham Zapruder important to the history of citizen journalism?

    He became an unintentional citizen journalist when he filmed President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in color.

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