Thursday, September 12, 2013

Pros and Cons of Citizen Journalism

I guess the first thing to cover would be to define citizen journalism. According to Luke Goode, citizen journalism is associated with the internet; however, this is not always the case, citizen journalism does not always necessarily stay online. Sometimes professional journalists will use eyewitness accounts, pictures, or video footage as well as information found on the blogs of citizen journalists. Also, print media sometimes have columns written by citizen journalists called soapbox features. However, when the world of both the traditional journalism and citizen journalists collide, the boundaries start to become increasingly indistinct. He goes further to define the citizen journalist as being more than someone who simply comments, reposts, or tags pictures on random websites. A citizen journalist is someone who actually captures news worthy events as it is happening and shares it with the rest of the world. The scope of the citizen journalist is not limited to breaking news events. Investigative journalism is also becoming more prevalent in the world of amateur news. A person researching a company, business, or government agency for any number of reasons may stumble upon some sort of scandal or potential wrong doing relating to that entity. If this person takes this information and brings it to the public’s attention, they have just become a citizen journalist. Mr. Goode goes further to explain that we cannot ignore or dismiss the potential impact that citizen journalism has on traditional journalism. One of the problems with nontraditional journalism is the lack of regulation. A citizen journalist can take a story and rework, change, or alter a story as it is circulating online; therefore, changing the original story. In fact, without anyone to answer to or guidelines to adhere to, they can simply make up their own news and post it online. (2009)
The average American is getting more and more involved in the political process, thanks in part to blogging and citizen journalism. James Surowiecki said in his TED Talk video that, “we are giving people that have never been able to talk before a voice, and we are able to access information that has always been there but has gone essentially untapped.” (2005) Before the world became so utterly and instantly connected, we were unable to discuss things like news, current events, and politics outside of our friends, family, and coworkers. With the communication technologies now available to us, we can talk to virtually anyone, anywhere, at any time. Today, people can go online and create blogs, websites, and profiles to discuss and promote anything and everything. Scattered throughout the seemingly never ending sea of information at our fingertips is citizen journalism. Sometimes you can find it were you least expect it. Mena Trott created a blog with the sole purpose of leaving a legacy of herself for the future generations of her family. She felt it was important to make a record of herself so that they could know who she was, beyond what memories of her that had been passed down. (2006) Though this blog is very personal in nature, it has the potential to be a platform for journalism. For instants, if in one of her daily posts she happened to mention a car crash that she had witnessed then that could be considered citizen journalism. By posting the when, where, and what type of vehicles were involved and so forth, she would be considered a citizen journalist.
Of course there are draw backs to citizen journalism. James Surowieck mentions the following about blogging in general, that people tend to lose their individuality. They jump on a band wagon about a particular topic and begin to lose their own opinion on the issue in favor of the views of the majority within the group. (2005) This behavior could have an impact on citizen journalism. For example, say a person were to post a story based on some information he or she had. Then the person also read another post about the same story, that person is more likely to change their story to match the other story not knowing if the facts in the other story were true or accurate. This is when citizen journalist should always fact-check their information. Chris Measures, who has had 15 years of PR experience, suggests there are three reasons why people should be wary of citizen journalism:

1.      Citizen journalists tend to be bias. Professional journalists are trained professionals that look at both sides of a story and can write from a non-objective point of view. Citizen journalist does not have the type of training; therefore, their stories are not as credible as professionals.

2.      Citizen journalists are not trained on the libel law. Professional journalists do have this knowledge and training. They know what they can and cannot say in a news story. An example of this is when citizen journalists wrongfully accused potential suspects and alleged co-conspirators during and after the Boston marathon bombings. The citizen journalists caused the police to take longer on the investigation. It also caused huge problems for those that were wrongfully accused.

3.      Last but not least, citizen journalists do not realize the copyright issues. Once a citizen submits a story, video, or picture to the press or news site, that news sources has the right to use the material however they choose to use it. (2013)
Even though Chris Measures brings up three good points about why we should be wary of citizen journalism, the fact is they are not going away any time soon. Professional journalists and citizen journalists can learn a lot from each other and work together in creating the news. When citizens see things that are news worthy, they should tell professional journalists the story and details and let the professionals research the story more thoroughly and write the articles. However, there is no way to convince everyone in the world to do that, so for now my advice would be to always fact-check what you read online. Thank you for reading.

Goode, L. (2009). Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, 11 (8), 1287-1305. Doi:10.1177/1461444809341393