Citizen Journalism

What is citizen journalism? Jay Rosen defined it as: “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.”


While traditional journalism and mass media slowly decline, citizen journalism is escalating quickly and establishing itself as an integral part of modern newsmaking. Citizen journalism is so significant because it enables regular, ordinary people to have a voice and share their story. Since the 1950’s, professional high-market news organizations have stood for credibility and accuracy. Journalists were individuals who had received sufficient education and training, upholding a position of respect and trustworthiness. However, today more and more people are beginning to doubt professional journalism. In their book, Citizen Journalism, Stuart Allen and Elinar Thorsen talk about a survey conducted by Edelmen PR, which was distributed throughout 18 different countries. The results showed that people favored “a person like me” as a more credible source of information, over elite or governmental institutions. This is a direct delineation from the traditional sense of trust and security that used to be associated with professional journalism. Today, anyone can publish a story, express their opinion, or even start a revolution.

There are many factors that have made citizen journalism so successful. In terms of industry, it is a free source of labor that enables news corporations to outsource their assignments and collect valuable eyewitness accounts.From an audience perspective, it allows for a more individualized way of consuming news than ever before. Citizen journalism has also broadened news distribution across multiple media channels and platforms, allowing for cross-media storytelling. Now more than ever we live in a digital age. News is not just written and recorded, its tweeted, updated to Facebook, circulated through blogs, and collaborated through Wiki’s.

Wiki Technology especially has enabled a wide variety of authors to gather and simultaneously develop articles. In his chapter, on Wiki Journalism, Paul Bradshaw explained the significance of news collaboration through Wiki’s, which allow multiple authors to add, remove and edit content. Wiki journalism is used in a number of ways. News corporations and professional journalists often use it to outsource their assignments and gather eyewitness accounts from citizens. In turn, citizen authors use it as a forum to share their experiences and monitor the accuracy of articles.

There are five types of wiki journalism, including second-draft, where readers have the opportunity to edit a news article that has been produced in-house, crowdsourcing, a means of using reader collaboration to cover a broad story or event, not able to be covered by a single reporter or firm. Supplementary wiki’s are pieces of original journalism that are presented for readers to “add-on” to, such as a discussion page for related stories. Open wiki’s are open spaces where the subject matter is entirely user-generated, often including articles that would not have been commissioned by news corporations. The last form is the logistical wiki, which is limited to in-house contributions that enable multiple authorship in an ongoing nature.

Overall, wiki’s have an incredible amount of value for citizen journalism. They allow for broad or complex stories to be effectively covered, they help news corporations better understand and identity community concerns, they allow news corporations to monitor and cover a wider range of topics, because of the availability of “free labor citizen reporters,” they provide a discussion space for people to contribute to dialogue or express opinions, they also include built-in translation services, which allow people from all over the world to read and share articles globally and last of all they provide regular people with a voice and a forum in which to speak.

Citizen journalism not only gives people a voice in terms of opinions, but also allows citizens to share their personal stories for the world to read. There are many incredible examples of the impact citizen journalism has had in the way we produce, distribute, and consume news. From scientists at a research base in Antarctica being able to share their daily accounts and keep connected, through the internet, even in the most isolated place on earth to citizens in China being able to instantly upload and share personal videos and accounts of the devastating Wenchuan earthquake this new form of citizen journalism enabled regular people to inform us, before news crews were even able to arrive. Interestingly enough, the effectiveness and reach of citizen journalism has established it as a fundamental part of modern newsmaking. As we’ve seen, people today are more likely to trust ordinary citizens over elite, big-name news firms.

Another prominent form of citizen journalism is the blog. Today, almost everyone has a blog. You do not have to have any special training, education or credentials, just a desire to share information in a reader-friendly way. There are countless numbers of blogs spanning topics such as how-to, fashion, cooking, sports, technology and weddings. However, some bloggers have used their sites as a platform from which to distribute important news and information to their peers and countrymen. In Kenya, during the period of violence and discontent surrounding and the following media blackouts of the 2007 elections, native bloggers such as Ory OkollohDaudi Were and Juliana Rotich kept people informed and notified of refugee movements, airport and road closures, transpiring events, and fuel shortages. Because of the ban on live media proposed by the newly elected Kibaki, these bloggers also used SMS text messaging and Twitter to distribute their messages to a wide audience. “Okolloh’s blog Kenya Pundit ranked 15,282nd on Technorati’s list of popular blogs,” said Ethan Zuckerman, author of “Citizen Media and the Kenyan Electoral Crisis”, “which is extremely high for an Africa-focused blog.”

Here’s a great TED Talk with Ory Okolloh:

Using her reach and influence, Okolloh proposed a system using Google Earth technology to create a Google Maps mashup that would alert and inform people of incidents of violence reported throughout Kenya. Within just a few days of her proposal, a prototype version was built and taken live at Ushahidi, which means “witness” in KiSwahili, provided a central location for Kenyans to receive and transmit information. By partnering with prominent mobile phone companies, users were able to send live updates via SMS. In less than 10 days, 75% of all Kenyan blogs linked back to Uhsahidi and the word was getting out there.

Here’s a video that explains what Ushahidi does today:

Ushahidi is a prime example of citizen journalism collaboration. Individuals could submit reports of violent incidents or encourage peacemaking efforts. Whenever a report of violence was submitted, users could include details, geographic location and all other supporting information, including videos and photographs. The administrators of Ushahidi crosschecked reports against other mainstream media and citizen media reports in order to create one single cohesive record, making all the reports visible on an interactive map. Ushahidi has won the NetSquared N2Y3 award for first place, which included a $25,000 prize. Today, the Ushahidi project is now focused on creating a sustaniable, open-source platform where citizen journalists from all over the world can report on crises.

As you can see citizen journalism is significant because it gives a voice to the voiceless and allows us to control the news. We are no longer solely consuming mass media that has been produced and packaged, we are using the tools we have and informing each other. Often, by the time news arrive on scene, most of the action or important events are past their peak. But, in a time that almost everyone owns a cell phone or digital camera, there is always some on scene to record and share the stories.


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