Curtis (2011) defines journalism as the practice of investigating and reporting events, issues and trends to the mass audiences of print, broadcast and online media such as newspapers, magazines and books, radio and television stations and networks, and blogs and social and mobile media.
With the idea in mind of informing the citizenry, journalists cover individuals, organizations, institutions, governments and businesses as well as cultural aspects of society such as arts and entertainment. News media are the main purveyors of information and opinion about public affairs.
Curtis (2011) explains that there are different reasons why journalism is practised. These include the desire to write, the desire to be known, the desire to influence for good and the desire for knowledge.however, the main intention of those working in the journalism profession is to provide their readers and audiences with accurate, reliable information they need to function in society. The press, or journalism, is often referred to as the fourth estate – a necessary component that acts as the watchdog for a healthy democracy. This is a huge responsibility, indicative of the important and integral role that journalism plays in our society.
Kokenge (2010) defines “Citizen Journalism” as the term used to describe journalism-like mass media content produced and published by non-professional journalists, i.e. everyday people who produce and publish written, photographic or videographic content for free. Blogs can also fall under this rubric. A blog can be published by individuals or by a group (a community blog), “be personal or expressive, and it can be written in any manner from everyday prose to formal essay style.
theopennewsroom.com (2011) explains that the term citizen journalist did not exist before the advent of the Internet. Citizen journalism grew in tandem with the growth of the interactive functions on the Internet.Although it encompasses many aspects and comes in different forms, including blogs, forums, uploading photographs or videos to the media.
theopennewsroom.com (2011) states that this description is echoed by the Source Watch- a project of the Centre for Media and Democracy which describes citizen journalism as individuals “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information”and adds that “citizen journalism is slowly being looked upon as a form of rightful democratic ways of giving honest news, articles, etc, directly by citizens of the world from anywhere.”
Arao (2008) identifies that citizen journalism gives audiences the opportunity to practice the journalism profession the author opines that it is a mechanism for empowering the public by making them aware of the workings of the press; and part of the press. Audiences’ participation is not confined to giving feedback and not confined to being source of information. Citizen journalism gives the audience the opportunity to be part of the actual practice of the profession.
Salawu (2011) asserts that the communication model for citizen journalism is interactional and at the same time transac-tional. The model of Citizen Journalism is interactional because it emphasises the two-way communication process between communicators. In other words, communication goes in two directions: from sender to receiver and from receiver to sender. This circular process suggests that communication is ongoing.
The model is equally transactional because the process is cooperative; the sender and the receiver are mutually responsible for the effect and the effectiveness of communication. In the transactional model, people build shared meaning .What is essential in all this is that Citizen Journalism is participatory. The audience is no longer passive. Bowman and Willis (2003) identified that the intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-rangingand relevant information that democracy requires.
Salawu (2011) further explains that Citizen Journalism has been greatly facilitated with the advent of the Internet. The Internet has enabled citizens to contribute to journalism, without professional training. Speciﬁcally, this kind of journalism has been enabled by networking technologies, such as weblogs, chat rooms, message boards, wikis and mobile computing.
Lasica (2003) categorized media for citizen journalism into the following types: 1) Audience participation (such as user comments attached to news stories, personal blogs, photos or video footage captured from personal mobile cameras, or local news written by residents of a community), 2) Independent news and information Websites (Consumer Reports, the Drudge Report), 3) Full-ﬂedged participatory news sites (OhmyNews), 4) Collaborative and contributory media sites (Slashdot,Kuro5hin), 5) Other kinds of “thin media”. (Mailing lists, email newsletters), and 6) Personal broadcasting sites (video broadcast sites such as (KenRadio).
Across the world, many media organization have incorporated citizen journalism into their publications or broadcasts. During the Egyptian revolution in 2010, Egyptian bloggers reported the protest including posting pictures about protest and government security crackdown of protesters.Media organizations across the world monitored the activities of some of the bloggers and re-published stories covered by some of the bloggers.
With a cell phone, anyone can write or take a photo and produce a piece of citizen journalism, and the Internet provides an infinite, essentially free publishing and distribution network. Thurman (2008) States that there is no doubt that those who have traditionally consumed news are increasingly ready and willing to produce content.
Larsen(2010) as quoted by Sarrazin (2011) observes that many citizen journalists do not really think of themselves in terms of journalism. The majority of citizen journalists do not aspire to be journalists in the traditional sense, reporting to them is not a matter of making a living as it is to professional journalists. Instead they are seeking a “venue of self-expression and […] the tools and flexibility to rise to the challenge when the occasion calls for it.”
Larsen(2010) observes that observe Citizen Journalism does not aim to do away with traditional journalism. There will always be a need for professional journalists, who spend a significant proportion of their time attending committee meetings or court hearings as well as doing investigative background reports on relevant issues.
Citizen journalists do not question the prerogative of traditional (print and broadcast) media to inform the public and should therefore not be eyed with suspicion by their professional counterparts. Traditional journalism and citizen journalism rather complement each other. The latter has the potential to “break a story, and mainstream media can carry on with it, professionally. Both are vital in our contexts. You cannot exclude any of them.”
Sarrazin (2011) further state that the intertwining of citizen journalism with traditional media is where the true potential of this new way of reporting lies. If conventional media outlets realise that they can benefit from the views and insight provided by citizen journalists, greater attention will be accorded to the voices of people whose views and opinions were previously underrepresented in the general public.
Citizen journalism is, therefore, of great significance to the international development context. By creating gateways and platforms for ordinary citizens to take part in the public debate it increases their levels of participation and empowerment, thereby contributing to a multi-faceted society marked by diversity.
Goh (2007) however asserts that, many in the media industries agree that citizen journalism is somewhat of a misnomer. Journalism, according to Phil Primack as quoted by Goh (2007), is a process “that centers on fact-based, balanced, edited and verified information, presented in a coherent and understandable way, to as broad an audience as possible.”
Goh (2007) further identifies that journalism is a “science that requires some training and qualifications, certain ethical standards, and credibility.” Therefore, so defined, it is not possible for any random citizen to be a journalist, but it is, however, possible for any random citizen to practice journalism, provided that facts are checked, information is verified, and the information is broadcast – a given with the Internet. Looking at the bigger picture, Bill Densmore as quoted by Goh (2007) claim “the phrase “citizen journalism” is an imperfect attempt to describe a new class of observer and participant in the public sphere.”
According to Densmore, before the Industrial Revolution things moved at a slower pace and citizens were able to engage in civic affairs locally and personally, thus there was little need for a journalist. But as the world population grew, globalization occurred, and business and communication took place at a faster pace, citizens were less able to personally experience everything that was going on around them; “and so the civic sphere began to depend upon proxies of the public to gather critical news – journalists.”
However, over time, commercial interests have taken over these journalistic services, influencing the type of news that is reported and preventing “information necessary for the functioning of a democracy”to be broadcast.
The beginnings of citizen journalism
theopennewsroom.com (2011) states that the growth of citizen journalism is tied to the growth of interactivity on the Internet.When physicist Tim Berners-Lee launched the world’s first website http://info.cern.ch/back in 1991, his site offered audiences very limited interactivity. Internet technology was limited in this regard. Over the coming years, a variety of new features and functions on the Internet made it easy for audiences to interact with other audiences or with website publishers.
It states that real change did not come until 2004 when Web 2.0 features started appearing on websites. Web 2.0 features enabled consumers or ordinary people to publish their own websites or weblogs, or feed content into the mainstream media among many other features. WordPress and BlogSpot are examples of such platforms. “Some of the characteristics often noted as descriptive of Web 2.0 includeblogging, RSS-generated syndication, social networking sites like YouTube, Facebook, mash-ups, wikis like Wikipaedia and other collaborative applications and interactive encyclopedias and dictionaries….”
Goh (2007) it is clear that citizen journalism is, in fact, “an extension of the rise of a participatory culture enabled by new communication networks [technology].” As such, citizen journalism is inevitable, a part of the evolution of media.
Before the Internet, the main participation in the media by the wider public had been writing “letters to the editor” and offering news tips, among other things. The combination of Web 2.0 features and digital technologies, like digital cameras or video camcorders and camera enabled mobile phones made it easy to gather and capture video and photographs and post them online.In some ways, this slowly marked the beginnings of audience participation in online media. Commonly referred to as ‘citizen journalism’, the phenomenon is also known by other terms such as ‘amateur journalism’ or ‘accidental journalists’ and the content is simply referred to as ‘user generated content’, or USG.
The useful tools citizen journalists include digital camera or camera phone (for taking pictures), digital video camera (for recording events), Cellular phone (for sending reports via SMS or MMS), Music player with recording capacity (for recording interviews).Other useful tools include blogs (for posting text, photos, videos), Interactive “citizen journalism” websites, Social networking sites (esp. photo and video sharing ones like Flickr, YouTube)
Reasons for citizen journalism
Some of reasons why citizen journalism is practiced include the following:
Desire for recognition
This is one of the driving forces that motivate individuals to become citizen journalists. Citizen journalists whose works are of quality are often recogised by on line community as well as in the real world. Their opinions on issues and events are ofetn referred to.
Exposure culture reflects the culture of the web in which getting noticed is everything. Web authors link to each other, quote freely and sometimes annotate entire articles. The whole essence of these is to reach as many web audiences as possible and make sites by such web authors accessible to audiences.
Some people get in citizen journalism to gavanize support to achieve certains causes. Such causes could be social, political or economic. For example during revolutions that swept the Arab world in 2010, protesters set up blogs to write against regimes which they sought to bring down. Photos of the protests were often posted on line to sway world support for their cause and also highlight security forces crack down against protesters during the protests.
To engender a sence of community
The internet offers opportunity for people who share common or similar interests a platform. It offers them the opportunity to exchange views and explore these interests. Citizen journalism is a means of communication between individuals or groups with common interests.
For the joy creation
For some individuals, it is the satisfaction of setting up and owning sites that is the motivating factor for engaging in citizen journalism. It gives a sense of satisfaction to these individuals they are creating something meaningful and of use to some one.
Theoretical Framework: Uses and Gratifications Theory
Fifty years ago, Elihu Katz (1959) as quoted by kokenge (2010) noted that the important question in mass media research was not “What do the media do to people?” but instead “What do people do with media. This “uses” approach assumes “that the message of even the most potent of the media cannot ordinarily influence an individual who has no ‘use’ for it in the social and psychological context in which he lives”. Although the mass media landscape has changed drastically in the past 50 years, Uses and Gratifications and its application to mass media research has experienced a revival in the Internet age.
kokenge (2010) identified that many scholars like Ruggiero (2000); Littau (2007) argue that the level of interactivity inherent in online media use, the array of media choices now available online as well as the variety of gratifications these media choices offer, all make online media particularly suited to explanation by the Uses and Gratifications theory
Media scholars Korgaonkar and Wohlin (1999) outlined seven different categories of needs fulfilled by Internet use. Their needs categories are broad and diverse including: among others, social escapism motivation, transaction-based security/privacy concerns and interactive control motivations, and they conclude that media “consumers use the Web for many more reasons than the often overemphasized reason: to retrieve information”
Sheehan (2002); Meyer, (2006) classified the needs of Web users into two basic categories: goal directed and experiential. A goal directed user specifically chooses certain content over other competing forms of content, while an experiential user simply surfs the Web with no specific goals or purpose in mind. Sheehan notes, too, that these two categories are not mutually exclusive and that a single user might move along a continuum between being a wholly experiential user and a wholly goal-directed user all within the same online session.
Kokenge (2010) identified that specifically related to blogging and citizen journalism, the Pew Internet and American Life Project produced two studies. One of these studies addressed bloggers in particular and showed that most bloggers use their blogs as personal journals and “do not think of what they do as journalism”. Nevertheless, in their production of journalism-like content they often adhere to and adopt the norms of professional journalism practice. Fifty-seven percent of bloggers include links to original sources either “sometimes” or “often” and 56 percent of bloggers spend extra time trying to verify the facts in their blog posts either “sometimes” or “often”. Yet, ironically, and despite the undeniably public reality of publishing anything on the Internet “most bloggers view it as a personal pursuit”
The Pew study also found that bloggers are predominantly younger, having an average age of 25. But, as Meyer (2006) notes, “identifying only young people as content creators would be incomplete.” Lenhart et al. (2004) as quoted by kokenge (2010) also denoted two other groups that create content online, and the reasons they share are linked strongly with the reasons they go online and why they might be interested in citizen journalism.” These two other groups were termed the “older creators” and the “content omnivores.” Older than the blogging demographic, a majority of both groups have incomes over $50,000 and are highly educated. Less likely to blog, these groups instead prefer to share content on the Internet through the maintenance of personal Web sites or contributions to family, business or organizational Web sites.
Huang et al. (2007) found five primary needs that bloggers sought to gratify: self-expression, life documenting, commenting, community forum participation and information seeking. These scholars note that in previous studies of bloggers’ motivations the information-seeking need has been neglected Through the use of hyperlinks and information subscription services like RSS feeds, bloggers are able to more easily gather the information they need.
Li (2007) arrived at conclusions similar to Huang et al. Li found seven different motivations for blogging: self-documentation, improving writing, self-expression, medium appeal, information, passing time, and socialization. Li found that these motivations are not separate, however, but are, instead, related to each other.
Factors that have influenced the growth of Citizen Journalism
Banda (2010) identifies that the media and communications landscape has changed in ways that make it possible for envisioning a more engaged citizen participation in journalism. Besides the rapid emergence and adoption of new ICTs, globalisation of democratisation and deregulation of the media landscape have also influened the emergence of citizen journalism.
Globalisation of democracy
The 1990s saw the collapse of state socialism and the consolidation of capitalism worldwide, marked by a dramatic intensification of public awareness of democratisation. The globalisation of democracy has implications for citizen participation in journalistic work. Banda (2010) identifies these implications as:
• Traditional journalism can be questioned in terms of how it represents different sections of the population purely on the principle of democratic representativity.
• Conventional media and journalism must ‘democratise’ their occupational practices in order to encourage the participation of more and diverse opinions.
• The work practices of the media can be viewed in terms of their relationship to the wider societal processes and institutions of democratisation.
Deregulation of the media
Over the world, greater deregulation of the media has being achieved. Deregulation of the media had been motivated by increased calls by citizens for participation in the media.
Banda (2010) identifies that the implications for the deregulation of the media for citizen journalism could be summed up as follows:
• There is a plurality of media platforms, theoretically providing more opportunities for citizens to experiment with citizen-journalistic communication.
• There is so much competition for sources of information that the base of possible sources is likely to be diversified, suggesting that conventional journalism will rely on citizen journalists for some of its production.
Arguably, this is likely to result in greater use of people hitherto marginalised from mainstream media.
• There is a greater opportunity for citizens to own their own media and counter the effects of years of reportorial neglect occasioned by an unhealthy concentration of media ownership.
• With new media outlets set up in far flung areas, such as community radio stations, the likelihood of achieving universal access to media by citizens is such that it could fuel interest in localised forms of journalism, including citizen journalism.
Benefits of Citizen Journalism
Citizen journalism offers diversity of voices and fresh perspectives on issues when compared to the mainstream media. Goh(2007) identifies that the current media ecosystem is dominated by a monoculture ,that is, the monoculture of corporate media organizations with reporting done by people coming out of the journalism schools across the country, belonging to the same professional journalism societies, and covering the news very much the same way as everyone else.
Citizen Journalism is different in that everyone has a different perspective on the same issues, a different style of writing, a different background, and a different voice. And now, with an almost-zero-cost distribution channel, everyone and anyone – not just journalists – can express themselves and share their views with others.
Citizen journalism is able to fill the gaps that mainstream media has left, intentionally or not. With “more eyes and ears in the community, helping to spot, or even report, news,” citizen journalists help to cover the hyperlocal news that concerns their daily lives, but that the mainstream media does not have the resources to cover – and who better to report on what happens in the neighborhood than the residents themselves.
Citizen journalism is also able to fill the gap by providing information on issues that the mainstream media have intentionally chosen to avoid, perhaps due to possible conflicts of interest. With citizens willing to spend time and effort digging to the bottom of things, “a worthy story cannot easily be censored by omission.
Jill Lang as quoted by Goh (2007) identified another advantage of the citizen journalism which is its ability to motivate the mainstream media to improve: editors and executives at Mainstream Media [now] have to think outside the box.Indeed, more competition, according to the free market model, spurs organizations to produce products and services of a better quality, ultimately benefiting the general public.
One such improvement is the shift towards convergence journalism – “a move from medium-specific content toward content that flows across multiple media channels, toward the increased interdependence of communications system, toward multiple ways of accessing media content”– that news organizations are currently making.
In much the same way that citizen journalism benefits society, convergence journalism is touted to produce “more engaging reporting, more complete information, and news that better reflects the complexities and nuances of an increasingly diverse and pluralistic society.”
Not only can citizen journalism act as an incentive for the mainstream media to improve, it can also re-engage members of the public who no longer tune in to the mainstream media and are disconnected from society. According to Brian Reich as quoted by Lang(2010), “people like to hear from voices they recognize,” therefore engaging the community in creating news may be a way to reconnect people and reinvigorate interest in what is going on around them. This potential to re-engage citizens no doubt is consequential for citizen journalism’s democratic potential too.
The speed at which citizen journalism can deliver news is unprecedented. Instantaneous nature of the Internet enables the spread of imformation at great speed. Citizen journalists blog or tweet news as they break to a world wide audience. The unprecedent spread at which these information spread makes citizen journalism unique.
One of the important impactof citizen journalism is the empowerment of individuals. Citizen journalism has allowed many people to realize that “they need not be only passive consumers, but can be active consumers and producers as well.”Moreover, their new capacity as a producer goes beyond just creating news to creating meaning, both for themselves and for society. Through the participatory democracy enabled by citizen journalism, “individual expressions can now have a meaningful effect on collective ideas and information.”
Challenges of Citizen Journalism
Theopennewsroom.com (2011) identifies that the potential benefits of citizen journalism as a source of up-to date news are widely acknowledged by media professionals and debates in media research. However, some debates say the disadvantages and risks outweigh the benefits by far. They say that given the instantaneous nature of the Internet and its potential global reach, anyone with ahidden agenda can potentially hide behind the anonymity of the Internet and post a false story or opinion story hidden as fact and potentially spread it globally in minutes.
One of the main concerns being the issues of vetting, credibility and accuracy. Unfortunately, the same speed that brings us instant information also results in an inordinate amount of misinformation. This problem in turn spawns another one: “many of the major media companies, from newspapers to cable news outlets, are getting much of their top stories off the Internet from independent bloggers or through social networks.
”Due to many news organizations’ financial struggles, there is a race to see who can break the news first, thus attracting a higher reader/viewership and commanding a higher price for advertising space. More accurate and credible news is sacrificed in favor of speed. In these situations, “with the pressures of instantaneous net communications, and the proliferation of blogs, the tendency will be to lessen the levels of safeguards in order to get the story out there.
Although citizen journalism has the benefit of speed, credibility and accuracy are compromised because “they employ standards which are far less rigorous than those of conventional news-gatherers.” The lack of journalistic norms like source verification has led to many Internet hoaxes spreading misinformation, and simply wrong news being reported because research was not done to certify the authenticity of its content.
theopennewsroom.com (2011) further states that the global nature of the Internet and the fluid feedback system that it allows, which is not only instantaneous but also has the flexibility of not needing to be continuous, allows citizen journalists to “quickly correct mistakes and get perspective from individuals – some of whom are experts on the issues at hand – from all across America and the world. The fundamental difference between the two systems is that the mainstream media does its vetting and fact-checking pre-publication, whereas the blogosphere carries out those same processes post-publication. Eventually, Wilmarth believes “this organic system of journalism has the potential to create a natural editorial check of journalistic standards and quality that is fundamentally different (and superior to) the contrived, profit-based system of 20th century managerial corporatism in journalism.”
That said, which system produces better quality news reporting is still debatable, and there is still room for citizen journalism’s vetting system to grow and evolve.
What seems to be more important when dealing with the issues of vetting, credibility and accuracy, is a need for an increased level of media literacy. The public today needs to be equipped with skills that will enable them to understand what citizen journalism is and how it works, so that “they can parse data, [and] evaluate what things are and what they may (or may not) mean.”
Another challenge of citizen journalism is that “some use the power of their press better and more productively than others.” The problem lies in the “others,” who often propagate “unsubstantiated gossip and rumor, [which] can elevate to a level perceived as “news,” and affect the public sphere in potentially harmful ways.” The open nature of the Internet means that people can manipulate and misuse it for their own purposes.
The rise of citizen journalism has also encouraged citizens to be more involved in the deliberation of important issues. According to research done by the Media Giraffe Project, people who take on the role of citizen journalists are extremely concerned about fairness and accuracy, and about making a difference – “righting what’s wrong and… shining light on dark crevices of human behavior.”These findings are certainly promising for the future of democracy in the United States.
Yet at the same time, a very opposite effect seems to have arisen – a “ghettoization” or balkanization of society, in Hynes’ terms, where people only seek out information from sources that are most like themselves or that agree with their specific ideologies.Surveys show that people are using the Internet to find information that aligns with their interests instead of seeking “general enlightenment,” or to be better informed.This fragmentation of society is partly a result of the information overload that citizen journalism has perpetuated. Society at large may be “overwhelmed and [thus] whittle down its news and information choices to a very few outlets.”
It is also partly due to citizen journalism’s distribution medium. In the past one would have to sit through an entire news broadcast, whether or not all of it was of interest, or one would have to flip the pages of the newspaper, reading headlines along the way that may seem boring. Citizen journalism, through its location on the Internet, allows people to now zoom in on specific areas of interest, ignoring other potentially important information. As such, the development of citizen journalism may be doing democracy a disservice.
Citizen journalism can demystify the journalistic process.Journalism can be a mystery to the general public. These because of the rigid process that journalists are expected to go through in packaging and delivering news. The advent of citizen journalism has now offers the public opportunity to be part of the news process.
It is not uncommon to find comment pages set up on line by main stream media for the audience to comment and shape perspectives on issues and events that the media reflect. Citizen journalism offers individuals the opportunity to have a fair knowledge of the news process and also hold the main stream media accountable for news reported.
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