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Citizen Journalism: Opportunity or Challenge

Through the emergence of social media in Web 2.0 citizens are no longer consumers of news but are now able to contribute as produsers. The ubiquity of devices with the ability to engage with social networking sites and upload user-generated content of current affairs has created the rise of the ‘citizen journalist’ (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Citizen journalism has been contested by traditional media producers for devaluing the profession but alternatively it is perceived as democratic and possessing a rawness and intimacy not seen in established media (Tilley and Cokley, 2008, Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). The nature of social media allows users to capture and share events that can provoke engagement and participation from other users who can then contribute their own perspectives through video, images and information (Goode 2009).

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Below are links to a worldwide and an Australian based citizen journalism platform:

http://globalvoicesonline.org/

http://nofibs.com.au/

Citizen journalism is also referred to as participatory journalism or user-centered news production (Kaufhold, Valenzuela and de Zuniga 2010, p. 515). The alternative names attributed to citizen journalism are a reflection and logical extension of the way users engage with Web 2.0. From their research Hinton and Hjorth (2013, p. 67) acknowledge this evolution and rise of citizen journalism as a result of “increasing user participation in the production of content.” Gillmor as cited in (Hinton and Hjorth 2013) writes in his book ‘We the media’ that journalism has transitioned from being in the form of a one-way lecture to a conversation. Websites such as Slashdot and Kuro5hin create a space for commentary on their articles cultivating participation. A critique of citizen journalism is that it is unregulated but these two sites have the ability to moderate themselves to a degree, users are able to rate comments thereby elevating the beneficial comments above the rest (Hinton and Hjorth 2013).

To elaborate on the earlier acknowledged positive elements of citizen journalism requires considering the benefits of democratizing journalism. Citizens are now able to upload content they deem to be newsworthy that extends beyond the bandwidth of traditional media companies (Tilley and Cokley, 2008, p. 98). This bypasses any agenda or biases certain media outlets may have but it doesn’t take into account as Hinton and Hjorth (2013, p. 68) note that it actually becomes more difficult to know the subjective biases of an individual blogger without any affiliations or accountability. This requires the reader to be responsible in determining the quality and potential prejudices of the journalism.

Lewis, Kaufhold and Lasorsa (2009) suggest that a person’s philosophical framework for citizen journalism will determine how favourably this form of news is received. An argument can be made for the need for ‘gatekeeping’ as a way to regulate the accuracy and reliability of the content that is produced (Lewis, Kaufhold and Lasorsa 2009, pp. 164-165), this posses significant difficulties in an online world where freedom of expression and speech are impossible to control except in the case of tyrannical censorship.

The development of mobile telephones with image capturing technology has enabled user-generated content to be uploaded that bypasses the potentially subjective leanings of written citizen journalism (Goode, 2009, p. 2). To a lesser extent the formation of Twitter, which allows for rapid dissemination of event descriptions, has contributed to reporting of unbiased current affairs as they develop live (Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). Below is an example of a twitter update with a photo from the Hudson River plane crash. It proves to be an example of live citizen journalism that is unadulterated and beyond the limitations of standard journalism – unless of course there was a professional journalist on the ferry!

Image-Hudson

‘… when major events occur, the public can offer us as much new information as we are able to broadcast to them. From now on, news coverage is a partnership.’ – Richard Sambrook (2005)

In Britain and Australia the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) are adapting to the increase of citizen journalist by providing the possibility for the public to submit entries (Sambrook, 2005, Hinton and Hjorth, 2013). In Australia through the ABC that comes in the form of The Drum, in Britain the BBC created a website (Sambrook, 2005, pp. 1-2) in the aftermath of the London Bombings where the public could upload content that at the time would not have been captured by professional news reporting teams. This method seems to be a happy medium for those wanting a place where skepticism and expression can meet to provide the audience with a larger breadth and scope of information about current affairs. As previously discussed citizen journalism will never be tempered completely without restricting freedoms but this method at least creates an educative space for affirming good journalism whilst cultivating contribution from the public. The challenges that have arisen through citizen journalism seem to have been adapted to by online media platforms than newspapers and as evidenced by the ABC and BBC have created opportunities (Lewis, Kaufhold and Lasorsa, 2009, p. 164).

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Reflecting on citizen journalism personally I am excited by the possibilities of creating my own content on a blog that can report important facts and events that has the potential to challenge the news and narratives that currently exist in society. #meco6936 has taught me considerable practical skills that I can now use to execute on various social media platforms to create engagement. My hope is to utilise the potential of online spaces for good and to create content that rises above the rest of the noise that will then invoke participation.

My immediate focus is to consider the intersection of Public Relations and social media communication and in this case more specifically the challenges and opportunities that arise from citizen journalism. Managing the PR of an organisation could now be a 24hr/day job as news is continuously breaking due to the nature of social media on Web 2.0. In some ways it could be easy to discredit and ignore citizen journalism as it could be perceived as lacking credibility. But online reporting/images/video in the hands of the right people or if picked up by legitimate media means organisations and their PR managers will now have less and less time to respond to bad press. Especially as one of the first principles of crisis response is to speak first into a media vacuum.

References

Goode, L. (2010) Social news, citizen journalism and democracy. New Media & Society, 11, 1-19

Hinton, S., & Hjorth, L. (2013). Understanding social media (1st ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Kaufhold, K., Valenzuela, S. & de Zuniga, H. (2010). How user generated news relates to political knowledge and participation. J & MC Quarterly, 87, 515-529

Lewis, S., Kaufhold, D., and Lasorsa, D. (2009). Thinking about citizen journalism: The philosophical and practical challenges of user-generated content for community newspapers. Journalism Practice, 4, 163-179

Sambrook, R. (2005). Citizen Journalism and the BBC. Niemann Reports, Winter, 1- 5

Tilley, E., & Cokley, J. (2008). Deconstructing the discourse of citizen journalism: who says what and why it matters. Pacific Journalism Review, 14, 94 – 114

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