Citizen journalism is also known under the term participatory journalism, and can be defined as acts of the ordinary individual that contribute to the gathering, analysis and distribution of matter that is of interest to the general public (Outing). Citizen journalism represents a positive development in today’s fast-paced society. Citizens are the ones primarily concerned with the news, as these are precisely to whom the news appeals and offers guidance. These people also represent those who are most likely to be present at the site of an important occurrence that is likely to make the news.
The accessibility to the general citizen of resources that facilitate the proper reporting of the news has been a favorable development in recent times, as it has allowed for the fast and accurate reporting of news. Even more importantly, citizen journalism has permitted the news access to areas previously inaccessible by the press. It has made more information available to the public and in such a wide variety that has improved the comprehensive understanding of the news and its discussion by readers and viewers.
Citizen journalism can be broken down further into subcategories that range from simple audience participation up to full fledged individual broadcasting (Outing). The increase and improvement of technology has made these efforts at journalism by citizens more effective and helpful in today’s media-driven society. The availability to citizens of tape recorders, camcorders, digital cameras and other technological methods of information gathering has made it very simple and convenient for the ordinary man present at the scene of an incident to collect very valuable and accurate information concerning the situation. Furthermore, the ease with which all this technology can be fit into one device—for example, the cellular phone—contributes greatly to the ability of citizens to make accurate breaking news quickly available to the public.
The digital capabilities of many devices now easily accessible on the market have contributed to the dissemination of information that can be (and has been) of immense interest and benefit to the public. In our post-911 society, the presence of security and reporting devices in all areas has been a crucial measure in improving the safety of citizens. Despite the efforts of the Homeland Security forces, the presence of paid patrons cannot always be guaranteed. Neither can the presence of the professional reporter on the scene of an incident be guaranteed as a method of making the public aware (in a timely manner) of emergency situations. The existence of the citizen reporter solves this problem, as these persons, armed with the technology of the day, are present everywhere to witness these incidents and report them with precision.
These citizen reporters may come in the form of tourists carrying cameras or businessmen carrying phones and laptops with wireless internet connections. These persons are randomly placed near the scene of many incidents the particulars of which very soon find their way to weblogs, discussion boards, independent podcasts, and even individual television news stations. The benefits of this ability to be present in various situations has been seen in such incidents in which amateur videos have led to the solving of crimes or where citizens’ pictures of notable events have created a richer, more poignant and complete view of memorable national events. Notable examples of this are the numerous internet sites dedicated to the memories of the September 11, 2001 disaster.
One major benefit of the citizen journalism movement is the fact that it has led to our return to the true meaning of “freedom of the press.” What had once literally meant the freedom to use the printing press for the dissemination of information soon became a means of protection for a few organizations (and their employees) which profited from providing news for the general public (Wikipedia). Now, the public has such access to methods of publishing information that the freedom of the press has again been granted its full scope as a method of offering publishing rights to all individuals. This has had the effect of widening the scope of the material presented to the public and reducing the partisanship of the press (Wikipedia). Democracy itself is supported by this new freedom, as Republicans, Democrats, and Independents alike now have access to publication in such a powerful medium as the internet provides. These citizen journalists now have the tools necessary to present their unique perspectives in virtually as professional and comprehensive a manner as any media house of the past.
Storm chasers have been known to produce much pertinent and useful meteorological information to the public, and many of these persons are amateurs who might be considered citizen journalists. The National Geographic Channel has produced a program which aired on April 25, 2007 featuring the collaboration of a meteorological scientist with just such a citizen journalist. This citizen, Sean Casey, is enthusiastic about filming the action of immense tornadoes. His work with his scientific collaborator allows for the presentation to the public of not just images of storms but of much needed warning signals that allow them to seek safety in time to save their lives (National Geographic). His work goes further to lead scientists to the tornadoes that hold the information to help them map the storms, predict their paths, and perhaps even develop methods of reducing their damage. All this work is facilitated by a layman whose interest in photographing and videotaping storms makes him a citizen journalist.
The value of citizen journalism can also be seen in the most recent school tragedy which took place at Virginia Tech. The cellular phone owned by Jamal Albarghouti became a very worthy and impromptu media instrument at the crucial moment when the incident unfolded (Tompkins). This video became available to the public through its being posted on the website of one of the largest news providers in the country, CNN. The value of this video shot by a layman citizen is clear in that it has been sought after by this large cable news enterprise, despite the fact that this corporation itself employs highly qualified reporters. The fact is that the availability of reporters on site during newsworthy incidents poses a problem because of the time it takes for them to get there once the occurrence of the incident has been made public. This problem has essentially been solved to a very large degree with the involvement of the public in reporting.
During the Virginia Tech incident, Albarghouti’s access to media-worthy video has provided to the public footage of the gruesome slaughter that would otherwise never have been seen. It may also hold some information that could prove valuable to the authorities in their investigation of the incident. Furthermore, evidence exists that to citizen journalism might also be attributed the honor of getting information out concerning the incident in other ways. While some students hid under desks, they used their cellular phones to pass on information about the incident via text messaging, web forums and blogs (Tompkins). One reporter at Poynter Online declares the importance of such citizen-generated media contribution in his statement, “If you ever had a doubt about how important it is for your newsroom to be able to tap into user-generated content, the Virginia Tech story will change that” (Tompkins). This highlights the fact that citizen reporting has brought news to the fingertips of the public with more access to personal experiences of those closely involved with the incidents.
Citizen reporting has had an important impact on the media of today’s society. It has made available to the public more immediate and comprehensive information regarding the incidents that make the news. Bringing back America to the purest meaning of the idea of freedom of the press, it has allowed a much wider range of citizens the ability to exercise these First Amendment rights in making their perspectives available to the public. The benefits of citizen reporting have been evident in meteorological areas, where storm chasing citizens have aided the better tracking of storms. The benefits have also been evident in the most recent national tragedy, in which students have played the major role in bringing the immediacy of the tragedy to the attention of the public.
National Geographic. “Tornado Intercept.” National Geographic Channel. 25 April, 2007. Washington D. C.: National Geographic Society, 2007.
Outing, Steve. “The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism.” Poynter Online. 15 June, 2005. St. Petersburg: The Poynter Institute. http://www.poynter.org/content/content_view.asp?id=83126
Tompkins, Al. “Students Tell Va. Tech Story through Cell Video, Blogs, Forums.” Al’s Morning Meeting. 17 April, 2007. Poynter Online. St. Petersburg: The Poynter Institute. http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=2&aid=121541
Wikipedia. “Citizen Journalism.” Wikimedia Foundation Inc., 2007 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizen_journalism
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Benefits of the Citizen Journalism. (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/benefits-of-the-citizen-journalism/