Module JG070

Citizen Journalism

Module author

Abel Ugba

University of East London

Learning objectives After studying this module, you will be able to:
  • Define citizen journalism and explain this journalistic genre;
  • Explain what is good about this concept and where its boundaries are;
  • Give an overview of the historic and technological developments that led to citizen journalism, including key persons who established this genre;
  • Reflect citizen journalism critically.
Study point 1
Reading extract Citizen Journalism


Why Open School of Journalism believes that Citizen Journalism is important zu know

A blogger posts hours of footage from Zuccotti Park during the Occupy Wall street protests. Citizens under fire in Syria post videos to YouTube during attacks by government forces. A filmmaker constructs an entire documentary about Barack Obama's election on Nov. 4, 2008 by splicing together crowd-sourced footage.

All of these fall under the category of citizen journalism—a new phenomenon where people who aren't journalists by trade collect, disseminate and analyze news on their blogs, wikis and sharing websites using everything from tablets to cell phone cameras to laptops. Social media has exploded with those who now have the ability to upload footage and provide analysis much faster than traditional news organizations.

But with this brave new world of citizen journalism comes questions about ethics, professionalism and above all, getting the facts right. Many professional journalists are unhappy with the rise of citizen journalism because they believe that the coverage is biased and amateurish. Citizen journalists respond by stating they provide breaking coverage of events and fresh eyes for the journalism profession.


Citizen journalism: the good points of ambition and technology

In today's electronically-driven society, tools such as cell phone cameras and the Internet can make covering a news event much simpler than even 20 years ago. A camera on an iPhone or Android phone has much better resolution than the cameras of the 80s and with voice recorders included in most cell phone software it becomes easy to shoot a video, provide voiceover and upload it within a matter of minutes.

For traditional news organizations, this poses a problem. Usually a reporter will hear about an event on the police scanner, grab a photographer, and rush out to the scene—but that takes time. In the drive over to the breaking news scene, a citizen journalist may have already shot footage of the event and uploaded it to their blog; Tim Pool, a community outreach director, gained fame by traveling to New York City and covering the Occupy Wall Street protests for 21 straight hours. NBC, Reuters, the BBC and Al Jazeera have all utilized his coverage in their broadcasts or reports.

With all the tools available to the average person, reaching out to the public with a breaking news story is much easier. No longer are people dependent on radio, television or the traditional newspaper; instead, they can look at a news site, check someone's blog or find their video account on a video-sharing website.


Questions remain about ethics and restraint

Professionals in the world of journalism aren't nearly as impressed with citizens becoming journalists. Many see the idea as noble in theory, but susceptible to bias and errors. When the Fort Hood shootings occurred, a soldier named Tearah Moore began tweeting and sending out pictures from inside the hospital where the wounded were being taken. She then tweeted that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the man responsible for the shooting, had been killed and that "it's too fair for him to just die".

The problem, of course, was that Hasan wasn't dead. Her tweet about there being a second shooter was also incorrect, pointing out a serious problem with citizen journalism: there are no editors to ask if the information has been vetted and is correct. Admittedly, even organizations like CNN make mistakes, but unlike the person who can tweet or upload in minutes, there is a chain of editors and fact checkers who go over stories turned in by journalists trained to investigate stories without bias.

However, people like Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University, consider citizen journalism that has some bias to be a good thing. Rosen, who was the leading champion of "civic journalism" even before the Internet, told the Washington Post in June 2006 that he started his blog because he was tired of going through editors who forced him to observe the rules they had as professional journalists. He felt that unbiased journalism wasn't necessarily a good thing, so "now that amateurs had joined pros in the press zone, newsrooms couldn't afford not to debate their practices."

Today's journalist faces an arduous task: melding the professionalism of traditional journalism with the electronic daring and skill of the citizen journalist. They must not only be reporters but videographers, bloggers and in some cases, even web designers. In the end, the motives are the same for both factions; what remains to be seen is whether the best from both can be spliced together into a new form of journalism.