What happens when citizens become journalists…

As most of us are aware, passive consumption is no longer the only option when it comes to the media.

There is now this outlandish, crazy alternative where we, ignorant amateurish consumers, can become what is termed: citizen journalists.

Ridiculous, right?

Journalism is going to survive. I just don’t s...
Journalism is going to survive. I just don’t see how the businesses that have provided it will survive. @ Clay Shirky @cshirky #openjournalism (Photo credit: planeta)

Well actually, the idea that amateurs can get in on the professional business is not a new one. Amateurs can be artists, or authors or entrepreneurs. So what makes journalism any different?

What decides how easily individuals can access the professional business is cost of entry. For example, you cannot simply decide you want to be a neurosurgeon and walk into a hospital. You need many, many years of study and some complicated qualifications. It is expensive and requires a set level of skill. By contrast, just about anyone can walk into McDonalds and be employed, because there is a comparatively lower level of skill (no offense intended, I respect employees of McDonalds).

Journalism used to have a relatively high cost of entry. You had to do a journalism degree and then be employed by a major company if you wanted to broadcast news.

However, the issue is, that since the birth of the internet, the cost of entry involved in being able to comment on current affairs has dropped impressively. To zero, in fact.

This has raised some questions: who should decide what the news is? Should it be giant media organisations, many of which are owned by the same people (i.e. Rupert Murdoch), or should it be the general population? If you read “Citizen journalism: Inside information vs. outside perspective” by Tom Merritt, it would seem that the idea of ‘non-professionals’ reporting on current affairs is not so unusual. As Tom Merritt points out, the printing press was originally a technology possessed by individuals who then formed major companies. In his opinion, citizen journalism does not have to ‘take over’ regular journalism, rather it’s a fairer system that allows each side to balance each other.

Hurricane Sandy 2012
Hurricane Sandy 2012 (Photo credit: charliekwalker)

As this video shows, citizen journalism should not be about killing journalism, but improving it. Citizens may be in the right place at the right time, able to collect information where regular journalists cannot. They may provide a voice when official avenues are silenced. Examples include citizen journalism during the Egyptian Uprising of 2011 and during Hurricane Sandy. This Observer Blog shows a collaboration of live tweets, images and reports designed to be more accessible in the moment than traditional media.

By contrast, citizen journalism can be less informed or truthful, because there are no ethics standards and few controls on what can be reported.

So it seems that journalism is not dying, but mutating into new and unseen forms. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is yet to be seen.

Axel Bruns talks about the “growing ability of produsage to hold its own against its more traditional rivals” in Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation. ‘Produsers’ are a hybrid species, that growing group of people that both produce and use online content. Citizen journalists are produsers. The text talks about the ways in which produsers are set to change the way we think of media.

So, according to Bruns, it’s not just journalism that’s being affected.



5 thoughts on “What happens when citizens become journalists…”

  1. Im impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog thats both educative and entertaining, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head. Your idea is outstanding; the issue is something that not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I am very happy that I stumbled across this in my search for something relating to this.

    1. Thank you! I’m really glad you connected with this! It is certainly a current issue that is hugely misrepresented. As I’ve learnt, it’s important to look at the concept in a broader way. I’m happy you enjoyed it because I enjoyed researching and writing it.

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