Freedom of speech is often identified with the capability of individuals to voice out opinions that are often disregarded by many. Not all people are able to practice such right and it has been well documented throughout the history that many individuals have already risked their lives in order to attain such freedom. Journalism has become the battle ground for the attainment of such right and from the time that individuals were able to practice their freedom of speech, the role of journalism has shifted as well.
Journalism is a form of communication which is based on asking and answering the so called five W’s and H questions: Who, what, where, when, why and how. The people who engage in this type of job are known as journalists. Basically, journalists have social roles that are more than just providing information; “journalists inform the society about itself and make public that which would otherwise be private” without disregarding the value of trustworthiness (Harcup 2).
It has been documented that the earliest journalists produced their news stories to be distributed for the news sheets, newspapers, periodicals and circulars. However, due to the advancement in technology, journalism has also evolved and managed to include other forms of media like radio, television, documentary or newsreels and the internet (Castro), the latter of which gave rise to notable developments that continuously made impact on the circulation of news all throughout the globe. One of the most notable developments in the field of journalism through the aid of internet is the emergence of citizen journalism. As such, this paper encompasses the value of citizen journalism and seeks to answer the question: How does citizen journalism create an impact on the credibility of the news being produced and disseminated by citizen reporters?
In order to further answer the given research question, the imperative methodologies employed in the study are the naturalistic observation and the analysis of existing data. Through naturalistic observation, various citizen journalism sites were visited in order to have a first hand account on how citizen journalism functions and who are engaged in the said activity. As for the analysis of existing data, various published sources concerning the credibility of citizen journalism and its impact in news dissemination were consulted.
The term citizen journalism is identified as the journalistic efforts practiced by citizen reporters or journalists, who are identified as individuals that produce, disseminate, exchange various news and information, which could range from common interest topics and current issues. Citizen journalism is also a process through which ordinary citizens report, write, edit, send video, text and audio for public consumption. Compared to civic journalism, which is maintained by professional journalists or reporters, citizen journalism is operated by individuals that are disassociated with the mainstream media (Vaughn).
Over the years, the development of citizen journalism has been accounted to the continuous advancements in various technologies including the printing press. However, with the rise of digital technologies, many individuals are now enjoying the unparalleled access to tools employed for dissemination and production. Right after the Internet granted access to ordinary readers via newsgroups and personal web pages (Bentley), citizen journalism can now range from user-submitted reviews about movies or “wiki-based news” which are then submitted in various web sites. Some sites only accept and run stories written by end users, while traditional news outlets are now open for comments and written stories from readers (Educause 1).
The development of World Wide Web, where easy combination of texts and graphics are allowed, personal pages began to flourish and photo sharing services and discussion sites gained popularity. Alongside with these developments, computer programmers were then encouraged to organize their works through the use of a small diary program known as the weblog, which is now popularly known for its shortened version “blog.” These so-called online diaries later became a recreational fixture in the Web. Today, blogs do not only serve as a recreational tool for expressing ones own thoughts and individuality but rather an avenue for people of diverse backgrounds to “take media in their own hands” (Bentley, p. 4-11).
According to experts, the advent of internet broke one of the professional boundaries of journalism. Through the introduction of blogging, the professional constraints of journalism industry which was once limited to certified journalist is no longer existent. Nowadays, politically active people and even ordinary citizens are entering the profession of journalism not only as bloggers but also as “independent citizen journalists,” which could either be done in the group where they belong or through the formation of groups bound by common interest discovered through the web. As such, it is believed that the next generation of reporters would be derived from blog users and are more likely to become the news contributors (Barlow 180). Just like public journalism, citizen journalism is seen as an action that is not bounded by the conventional meaning of journalism. In one way or another, it is seen as an effective tool to break free from the media bias and also takes into consideration local issues, making its appearance possible in the global landscape (“Citizen Journalism”).
In this regard, the process of citizen journalism could be considered as a trend of globalization which takes the entire world as a single unit. Due to the introduction of citizen journalism, information dissemination is made faster compared during the past centuries. One area that is greatly affected by citizen journalism is the news media. Several attempts have been made in order to define news, it has been told that its definition is difficult to regard. One of such numerous attempts is done by MacBride when he gave out the major qualities contained by news:
…it must be circulated quickly after the event, be of the wide interest, contain information which the reader or listener has not received before, represent a departure from the everyday pattern of life and contain information that is useful in reaching decisions. (qtd in Hungbo 277-278)
Apparently the authenticity and significant timelines played an imperative role for the acceptance of a news material (Hungbo). As late as August 16, 2006, it was estimated that 1,613 calls were made by individuals trapped in the World Trade Center Towers during the September 11, 2001 attack. The calls were released for the awareness of the public and for the families of the survivors. Network televisions were also reliant on citizen reports during the tsunami attack in the Indian Ocean on December 2004 that killed 230,000 people. The blogs of survivors in the Gulf Coast served as the very first filed reports right after Hurricane Katrina tragedy that severely damaged Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida in August of 2005 (Vaughn). Furthermore, different sites are now dedicated in the accumulation of news from citizen journalists like Backfence.com, WestportNow, Getlocalnews.com, while other professional journalism sites accept news from citizen reporters. These include CNN, Washington Post and New York Times. Based from these records, it is evident that citizen journalism contributes positive developments in the field of news gathering and dissemination. However, for the critics of citizen journalism this is not always the case and from the foregoing, one of the major considerations that should be regarded by citizen journalism is the credibility of the news content.
It should be noted that credibility is a major factor for the news and that researchers claimed that the combination of accuracy and information depth are major ingredients in order to confer the credibility of the news (Hungbo). Some groups have argued that the quality of any citizen journalism project is a reflection of the contributions by the people who are participating in such activity. It is therefore regarded that citizen journalism can be a ground for triviality and the basis of unreliable contents. Since many of the users of such project put their trusts in the materials found online, most especially when it comes to news, citizen journalism projects are deemed to have the potential of implicitly validating contents that are inaccurate, offensive and lacks credibility (ELI).
There are myriads of high-profile scandals that rooted from citizen journalism. One notable instance was the issue regarding the faked letters concerning the service of George Bush in the Texas Air National Guard. According to David Kline, a blog commentator, “it was the most famous coup of all for political bloggers.” Meanwhile in the CBS program 60 minutes, Dan Rather aired an investigation and a proof which tells George Bush’s evasion of draft during his National Guard service. Rather used documents that were questioned by other bloggers from the site Powerline.com. An investigation took place and an established fact that the documents were forgeries damaged the credibility of Rather and CBS, leading to Rather’s retirement decision. The incident further complicated when it was discovered that two of the most prominent bloggers who identified that Rather’s documents were forgeries were also working for the Republican Party. This is a clear indication that there are deeper issues other than the questioning of the documents (Barlow).
The question of credibility is also not restricted to texts. Millions of people are now able to upload digital photographs and videos in the internet. Such pictures could be viewed by friends, relatives or anyone else who has an internet connection. In this case, photos could be manipulated and can become the subject of explicit contents. Likewise, it should be noted that the emergence of tools that enable photo editing or manipulation could contribute to the augmenting credibility issues surrounding the citizen journalism. Any person with a camera-phone could easily capture what they see, whether it is appealing or not, in the event the said photos could be altered through the aid of photo manipulation tools. The manipulated photo could be employed for destructive advancements, which could undermine the credibility of the news that the photo is representing. Given the said facts, citizen journalism which is deemed as a tool established to boost the value of trustworthiness in reporting may result to the loss of the public confidence over the news. While trained professional journalists has the ability to carefully separate the supportable evidences from mere speculations and opinions, the lack of professionalism of the majority of citizen journalists could result to the weaker sense of constituting reliable stories that are free of conjecture (ELI). In this sense, the inability of citizen reporters in reading the news without a skeptical eye before creating follow up feedbacks undermines the over all credibility of the news being reported.
Based from the research undertaken, it is evident that citizen journalism has gained its popularity globally. This form of journalism emerged through the initiative of individuals who are willing to partake in providing information in accordance to their own perspective. In recent years, with further enhancements in digital technology, the term journalists can now be used by ordinary citizens who are willing to do their part in the process of information gathering and dissemination. What was once dominated by a handful of trained professional journalists is becoming a landscape for commonality for people of diverse backgrounds. The success of citizen journalism to become a part of the mainstream media is accounted to the fact that it gives freedom to every individual to voice out what they know, which provides the world with an alternative perspective of the once conventional field of news and information gathering and dissemination. Citizen journalism empowered freedom of speech for people who were not privileged to enjoy such condition.
From the observations carried out through the study, it was found out that various sites were generated in order to prioritize reports from citizen journalists. Through the aid of these sites, citizens are actively posting comments, photos and videos that serve as a back up for news gathered by professional journalists. In some cases, citizen reports are among the first filed accounts that serve as the basis of facts and information presented in the mainstream media.
Although citizen journalism is posted to contribute in the positive development of the journalism industry, it is still regarded by many as a threat to the credibility of the news being provided. Citizen journalism projects are deemed as a haven for unreliable content and triviality. Generally, with the existing form of technology employed today, reports from ordinary citizens have the potentials to validate contents that are inaccurate which often result to the public’s loss of confidence in the news. Likewise, the diversity of people participating in the field induces cynical viewpoints which in the end provide a ground for uncertainty undermining the credibility of the news.
There are no existing protocols that could be used for the evaluation of the contents of every citizen reports. Likewise, there are no other advocacies that promote the understanding in the appropriate use of user-produced content. Because of the mounting awareness of the public in the impact of citizen journalism in the credibility of news which could negatively impact the overall performance of the journalism industry, legislators must begin to take the issue seriously. There should be an implementation of mechanisms that advocate the proper management of the increasing participation of ordinary citizens in the field of journalism. In this sense, this so-called freedom of speech would serve as an opportunity to be used as a comprehensive tool for improvement.
Barlow, Aaron. The rise of the blogosphere. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007.
Bentley, Clyde H Citizen Journalism: Back to the future? Cambridge, MA: University of Missouri School of Journalism, June 20-21, 2008.
Castro, Janice. “Journalism.” Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 10 November 2008 < http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761553932/Journalism.html>.
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Educause Learning Initiative. 7 things you should know about…Citizen Journalism. Boulder, CO: Educause Learning Initiatives, November 2007.
Harcup, Tony. Journalism principles and practices. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2004.
Hungbo, Jendele. Credible News Measures: A medium’s integrity. Nebula. March 2007.
Vaughn, Stephen. Encyclopedia of American Journalism. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2008
Cite this Citizen Journalism
Citizen Journalism. (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/citizen-journalism/