Citizen journalism has redefined the concept of what it means to be a journalist. Through the advent of new and exponential advances in technology, the general sense of journalistic responsibility has been redistributed away from the sources of conventional media down into the hands of everyday citizens.
By definition: “Journalism is the gathering, organizing, and distribution of news — to include feature stories and commentary — through the wide variety of print and non-print media outlets.” (“A Brief History of Journalism: How We Arrived to Where We Are.”)
Traditionally, both journalism and the availability of information in and of itself have been governed by the people that control its distribution. This is greatly expounded upon by Karl Marx’s theories about political economy and how those who control the means of distributing media, control the means of spreading ideology and can act as a hegemony. (“Marxist Theory of Political Economy | League for the Fifth International.”) The flow of information as well as its formatting is largely contingent upon its mode of conveyance and has a largely symbiotic relationship with the sophistication of contemporary technology. Before the advent of television and radio, the primary source of information was the newspaper.
In the earliest days of journalism in the western world, newspapers were of a price that could only be afforded by the wealthiest. (“Early America.”) This fact in and of itself greatly constricted the free flow of information to everyday people. At this point in time, the mere thought of everyday people eventually contributing to this flow was far from even existing as a twinkle in somebody’s eye.This free flow of information became actualized by the advent of the penny press in 1830 and further built upon by inventions such as the telegraph in 1840. By the early 20th century, the average American was reading several newspapers a day. This became a powerful means of spreading both objective news, as well as such softly nefarious concepts as sensationalism and muckraking. (“A Brief History of Journalism: How We Arrived to Where We Are.”)By the end of the 20th century – with the inception of new technologies such as radio and television – news and journalism came to be centralized around major media organizations which were owned by major media moguls. (“A Brief History of Journalism: How We Arrived to Where We Are.”)The dawn of the 21st century saw a major paradigm shift with the birth of both social media platforms – such as Twitter and Facebook – and highly sophisticated user technology which, in a collaborative effort, sowed the seeds of modern citizen journalism that we see today. (“A Brief History of Journalism: How We Arrived to Where We Are.”)Rise of citizen journalism”Citizen journalism is discursive and deliberative, and better resembles a conversation than a lecture”. (Bruns) Citizen journalism can be understood as the very natural consequence of advancement in modern technology coupled with the human being’s natural desire to be seen and heard. If a camera is built into a phone, it is only natural for a person to use it. These days, with the ubiquitous nature of smartphones throughout the developed world – as well as many developing countries – pretty much everyone has almost immediate access to at least a basic camera. Even the most basic of phones have a camera, so nearly everyone has some semblance of self-broadcasting. In the same vein, these days social media sites can be accessed by nearly every conceivable form of consumer electronics with the collection of a user interface, wireless internet capability, and web browser. For this reason, modern opportunities for regular citizens to perform the roles of journalists are boundless. This can be seen as a major positive when because journalists can’t be everywhere at once. Concurrently, citizen journalists are often able to cross both tangible and intangible boundaries that traditional media are unable to and may end up acting as the sole source of first-hand information about events or situations where professional coverage may be prohibited. In these situations, citizen journalism can feed directly into traditional news sources, thus further skewing the dividing lines between both forms of journalism. (“The rise of citizen journalism.”)While beneficial in many situations, these acts can often be construed as bothersome to the point of problematic. This is particularly true when information is presented with a particular bias or eschews the laws prohibiting libel. The latter fact is one of the biggest criticisms toward citizen journalism due to the oft-ignored reality that everyday citizens don’t have the proper training or knowledge, and can spread damaging information either intentionally or unintentionally. This can be greatly put to evidence when accounting for situations such as Reddit’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing during which many innocent people were accused of being involved in some way. (“The rise of citizen journalism.”) Situations like this can lead to harassment and threats while also obfuscating or hindering actual investigative efforts with unnecessary noise. Therefore, with all the positives associated with the rise of citizen journalism, everyday citizens still require a certain level of policing for the sake of law and order.
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A perfect example of how technology has helped reinforce the effectiveness of citizen journalism is the case of Tim Pool. Although common knowledge, it bears repeating that Tim Pool was able to broadcast the events of Occupy Wall Street using just a smartphone for live streaming and aerial drones
for providing overhead coverage. Although often viewed as excessive and meddlesome, his efforts did provide the evidence that led to the acquittal of photographer Alexander Arbuckle. In contrast, his efforts also jeopardized his safety. Although this danger is inherent in many types of journalism, this contrast still acts as a concise example of the double-edged sword that is citizen journalism. (Watch: Occupy Wall Street, Broadcasting Live.”)In addition to his deft use of both smartphone and drone technology, Tim Pool was also documented as using Google Glass technology as a way of documenting from a first-person perspective while keeping his hands free. This can be accomplished with Google Glass due to the nature of its construction. (Dredge) “When there’s a wall of police firing plastic bullets at you, and you’re running through a wall of tear-gas, having your hands free to cover your face, while saying ‘OK Glass, record a video’, makes that recording process a lot… easier,” says Tim Pool. (Dredge) This is a great example of how certain aspects of both journalism and technology have evolved and developed in a collaborative effort. Along with his use of modern technology, Tim Pool also implemented a very modern style of reporting that involved engaging viewers as participants. He enables them to both ask questions live and receive responses in real-time. (Watch: Occupy Wall Street, Broadcasting Live.”)
In early 2011, a series of anti-government protests took place throughout the Middle East, to varying amounts of success. These were sparked by the self-immolation of a fruit vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire in response to the confiscation of his cart by local police. Due to their occurrence during the early part of 2011, this collective group of protests came to be known as the Arab Spring. Much of these protests were in response to a general feeling of oppression as well as a strong desire to be heard. (“What Is the Arab Spring?”) This is when citizen journalists stepped up to make this possible.
Occurring in the same year as Tim Pool’s coverage of Occupy Wall Street, the events of the Arab Spring act as a great example of how citizen journalism can enable the flow of information across very real political boundaries. This collective event is often cited as a paramount reason for the growth of the modern inclusionary practices of major news organizations when it comes to the usage of cellphone footage. (Batty ) As per The Guardian: “Al-Jazeera’s citizen media service Sharek received about 1,000 camera phone videos during the Egyptian uprising against Hosni Mubarak.” (Batty) While vital to the documentation of this situation as well as many similar situations due to their capabilities in instant documentation, citizen-produced footage still often lacks the nuanced skill of interpretation found in professional photojournalism as well as an accurate overall representation of the full situation being covered. Despite this, reporters are now opting to take footage with camera phones due to the quality of the pictures and videos captured, as well as their generally unobtrusive nature. CNN journalists were able to use smartphones during the Arab Spring to “get right into the heart of the story” (Batty). According to Tony Maddox: “During the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, our operators were coming under attack and smartphones enabled us to be a lot more discreet.”. (Batty)
Although Michael Brown’s case is still controversial to this day, the actions of Antonio French during the protests over the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014 act as a great example of both citizen journalism and the versatility of social media in and of itself, which has greatly altered the way that police brutality is reported. According to a New York Times article written on the topic, it was stated that “Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed on Aug. 9, 2014, by Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in Ferguson, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis”. (“What Happened in Ferguson?”)This particular event sparked general sentiment of outrage which led to a series of protests that lasted for days.
In 2014, Antonio French spent days posting a series of photos and videos on Twitter of both the demonstrations, as well as the ensuing police actions – all of which were captured through the use of his mobile phone. Blurring the lines of both regular citizens and elected officials when it comes to the position of citizen journalism, Antonio French was an alderman whose position gave him added credibility when it came to his independent reporting. (Larimer)Although he was the most prominent figure in this situation, he was by no means the only one employing these types of methods. Akin to his methods of reporting, many other citizens began reporting independently using such modernly stylized methods as Facebook “hashtags” and Twitter “retweets” as a means of spreading their message, photos, and videos. (Gillmore) When traditional media failed or was otherwise halted, “it was often the alternative news sources and citizen journalists who fed us new information and updates. (Deckers) No longer were people that felt targeted or mistreated to go without being afforded an avenue of testimony.
All of these examples cover vastly different circumstances where citizen journalists have complimented or even substituted traditional journalism. Sometimes out of necessity, other times out of anger, but always in the spirit of journalism. It is often less important if how a job is accomplished is proper and more important that the job is completed in and of itself. Journalism is a prime example of this. The modern state of journalism is so far removed from the days of plutocratic absolutism in the realm of information flow that it can almost seem that it is of a different world. America in particular went from a state of living where information was a privileged commodity to a world where people are so bombarded with information that the sources have to be verified before the information contained within can even be trusted. That is the modern world of citizen journalists.
While most of these citizen journalists lack the background or qualifications to do the job at hand, they are still fulfilling the role and doing a job that many people are either unwilling or unable to fulfill. No longer is the title of journalist ascribed to just a select few. Modern technology and social media have opened doors for people who were previously of the right intrinsic caliber but the wrong qualification, freedom, or social position. The responsibility is now in everyone’s hands; therefore silence is no longer an option. “See something, say something” is the battle cry for the modern citizen. (Gillmor) This fact is a testament to the spirit of citizen journalism.
“A Brief History of Journalism: How We Arrived to Where We Are.” UniversalClass.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.Batty, David. “Arab spring leads surge in events captured on cameraphones.” The Guardian. N.p., 21 Feb.2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.Bruns, A. (2007). Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation. In Proceedings Creativity & Cognition 6, Washington, DC. Available at http://eprints.qut.edu.au/6623/1/6623.pdf, accessed 03.06.17Deckers, E. (2014). #Ferguson Shows Why Citizen Journalism Is Still Critical. Available at http://problogservice.com/2014/08/19/ferguson-shows-why-citizen-journalism-is-still-critical/, accessed 03.06.17Dredge, Stuart. “How Vice’s Tim Pool used Google Glass to cover Istanbul protests.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 30 July 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.”Early America.” Journalism in the Digital Age. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.
Gillmor, Dan. “Ferguson’s citizen journalists revealed the value of an undeniable video | Dan Gillmor.” The Guardian. N.p., 11 Nov. 2016. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.Larimer, Sarah. “Who is Antonio French, the alderman providing updates from Ferguson?” The Washington Post. WP Company, 14 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.Logongr. “How citizen journalism changes the media world (using the example of the Ferguson riots).” Mediastudentinthegong. N.p., 05 May 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.”Marxist Theory of Political Economy | League for the Fifth International.” Marxist Theory of Political Economy | League for the Fifth International. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.Primoz Manfreda Middle East Issues Expert. “What Is the Arab Spring?” About.com News & Issues. N.p., 10 Feb. 2017. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.”The rise of citizen journalism.” Revolutionary Measures. N.p., 01 May 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2017.”Watch: Occupy Wall Street, Broadcasting Live.” Ustream Newsroom. N.p., 13 Mar. 2013. Web. 06 Mar.2017.
“What Happened in Ferguson?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 13 Aug. 2014. Web. 06 Mar. 2017
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