Citizen Journalism

Citizen Journalism is defined on Wikipedia as the concept of “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.”

Citizen Journalism is a huge and ever-growing phenomenon where the general public, with the use of social media and networking sites, as well as video-enabled mobile phones, can report on breaking news far more quickly than traditional journalism methods.

Current Events talk show Close Up  discussed the idea of “Citizen Journalism changing the face of the news”. It showed four local NZ examples of the general public posting videos on Youtube or comments on Facebook that went viral and ultimately led to the arrests in three of the cases for assault and theft.

TVNZ Close Up: Citizen Journalism

The obvious power of social networking, with the speed at which an idea, article or opinion can be spread, is simply amazing. It is a phenomenon we are all becoming well aware of, both as viewers, and as the person trying to get their message out there.

The power of social networking sites is growing more and more with each day’s new forms of technology. We get a lot of our global information from sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to name just a few. The Kony 2012 video that I discussed in a previous post is perhaps the most impressive example of how social media sites work. Over 50million views in 3 days! In this case, the idea behind posting it was to rally an immense amount of support for a good cause.

But what are the other effects of information going global? There are no standards, or methods of control for what “news” items are posted by the general public. Professional journalists have criticized Citizen Journalism for being too subjective, with amateur reporting in low quality videos.

Are people posting videos for interest’s sake, or is there an ulterior motive? Definitely both. But when the latter is the impetus, then we may only get to see one side of the story and form our opinions based on this. What are the repercussions for those who are portrayed as the “baddie” in these stories? What if all of the information is not given in these videos, or if the information is incorrect, or has been greatly edited? Frankly, lives get ruined.

As Matt McClay, the reporter of this news piece points out, “it’s easy to have an opinion these days from behind the computer” and “it just takes one comment……on Facebook, and in this modern age, that is enough for an instant rush of judgement.” Close Up’s presenter Mark Sainsbury asked the question, “have they (the offenders in the videos) already been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion?” What we often don’t see is the provocation that led to the assault or argument. Close Up suggests that at times, “the vilification (they) get from the public online, does not fit the crime”.

Donald Matheson, a Senior Lecturer in Media and Communication Studies at Canterbury University in NZ, discussed the impact of citizen journalism.  He felt that most people were able to differentiate between information they saw on the News, and videos they saw on Youtube. He called it “Emotional filtering”. We should be able to make a logical judgement on what we are viewing. I would beg to differ though. If you only see one side of a story then you make a judgement on that. You are not to know that there is actually a different side of the story. So many of the so called offenders on these videos have been persecuted on the social media sites.

It seems that the police are forced to step in to address an assault after it has been posted online. I don’t condone assault in any way shape or form, but once the story breaks into the mainstream news, we then hear that an annoying group of teens provoked the situation, videoed it, and then posted the edited version of the incident.

It’s a difficult one, because morally we know that these stories may be pretty fabricated but human nature forces us to follow the most popular postings and we can’t help but form an opinion on them. The problem is that these opinions are now so easily made public when we post on a public forum and once the ball starts rolling, it is just so difficult to stop. Innocent until proven guilty is a difficult concept when the apparent evidence is right before us and everyone becomes an armchair witness.

The upside of this is that there are now a number of websites and blogs that devote their space to citizen journalism and encourage others to share their newsworthy stories. CNN iReport invites viewers to send in stories and posts them on their news programmes.  Global Voices Online is an online citizen media site whose mission statement is “Global Voices seeks to aggregate, curate, and amplify the global conversation online – shining light on places and people other media often ignore. We work to develop tools, institutions and relationships that will help all voices, everywhere, to be heard.” Sites such as these probably organise and moderate their stories before posting them.

I guess the other important lesson learned here is that we all need to remember that someone else is always watching, and that someone may be very ready to go digital. Citizen journalism is definitely an important tool in disseminating information, but we now all need to be careful with what we do with it.




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