Citizen Journalism

The number of people who have a smartphone within arm’s reach throughout the day is higher than ever now. Even the most simple of these hand-held devices have a camera and internet capabilities. All with a few taps of the screen, the smartphone enables us to post images, share videos, and update a social media page effortlessly. Consequently, this has given rise to citizen journalism―a paradigm shift where citizens not only consume the news, but play an active role in the producing and reporting of it.

Citizen journalism has come to be known as the quicker news source ahead of traditional news sources. This is made possible by the smartphone; any citizen who happens to be at the scene during a time of breaking news can digitally capture and share the story within seconds. Its method has proved far more efficient than traditional news teams who would not have arrived at the scene, or possibly even heard of the event yet.

Twitter has become arguably the primary outlet for such journalism, and it boasts a triumphant list of news stories that were released on its own platform before the mainstream media. A famous example is that of Whitney Houston’s death; it was reported on Twitter over an hour before the mainstream press heard about it.

However, the alacrity of citizen journalism is not all that it has to offer. In many cases, such as the Arab Spring, journalists are often banned and censored by regimes that do not want the story to be reported. In such circumstances, citizen journalists reporting the events on their iPhones may be our only source of information.

Evidently, citizen journalism definitely holds some advantages over the mainstream press. With national newspapers and TV news networks running stories based on earlier reports by citizens, the mainstream press has certainly taken note of the new dimension that citizen journalism brings to the table. Most of the mainstream press has developed apps in order to work with, rather than against, the newly formed news source. Gina Horton says that “The Guardian’s ‘Guardian Witness’ app purposely targets citizen journalists, asking them to supply staff journalists with videos, photos and stories of any event they deem newsworthy”.

billboard1 citizen journalism

Despite its significant benefits, the rise of citizen journalism is not a one-sided affair. There are certain issues that we should be wary of when consuming citizen-reported news. Perhaps the most apparent concern is bias. Although it has been established in an earlier post that everything said has a degree of bias within it, professional journalists have been trained to eliminate as much bias as possible when reporting a story. Something that citizen journalists may not avoid as well, whether they are conscious of it or not.

The law is something else that we should be concerned about; speaking particularly to the laws of libel. Again, what can and cannot be said is common knowledge for the professional journalist. However, the citizen journalist might not be as aware of these laws. Chris Measures exemplifies how this might end badly with Reddit’s coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. “The site’s Find Boston Bombers thread wrongly accused several people of being involved in the atrocity, leading to harassment of their families and potentially slowing down police investigation”.

Citizen journalism has done a great deal in opening up the producing and reporting of the news to everyone. It has revolutionized the way we consume news; the news is no longer given in the form of a hierarchy, but it is shared horizontally. However, to remain a positive impact, we as citizens must understand our responsibilities when we share, report and consume the news.

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Objectivity in Professional Journalism

The doctrine of objectivity has long been a canon of professional journalism. It was established in order to demystify opinions and political bias, and give the public clear, fact-based reports so that they could form their own opinions on things. However, the very principle of objectivity has found itself at the center of a split that threatens the existence of professional journalism. Some argue that objectivity the source underlying the mainstream media’s failure to connect with the public, while others claim that it is the ideal which all professional journalism should strive to if it wishes to save itself.

The former ideology “labels the doctrine of objectivity an outdated relic that keeps the mainstream press disconnected and irrelevant in our increasingly partisan culture”. It is unclear whether they mourn the death of objectivity, but it is clear that they believe the paradigm shift towards opinion-based journalism is a necessary one. On one side of this spectrum there are those who find the notion of abandoning objectivity to be a sad one, but nonetheless necessary. On the other side, however, the rise of opinion-based journalism is celebrated for its authenticity, and is seen as a leap forward.

The latter ideology insists that “political polarization is degrading our popular culture, and the objective professional journalism is the one beacon of hope”. This is to say that it stays firmly planted in the roots of which many journalism cultures grew from: lighting the public’s way to the “truth” in a dark cloud of prejudices and biases.

The possibility of journalists giving in to our modern, partisan culture and expressing their opinions in order to become more relevant seems very plausible. However, reports suggest that the bulk of regular news-viewers prefer news without a particular point of view, in spite of our increasingly partisan culture as a whole. These people do not look to the press to be influenced, but rather to be informed. This is the dilemma; opinion-based journalism would most likely help to bring in new audiences, however the switch away from fact-based journalism would likely reduce the already diminishing audience that journalism enjoys.

Contrastingly, the majority of the public already believes that news organizations have a bias. And with good reason; true objectivity is simply impossible―every event that is reported must still be interpreted subjectively. Journalism’s response has been the tightening and regulating of formal measures that give the appearance of neutrality: the use of quotations, facts, balance, etc. These habits lead to detached and awkward reports however, that seem to have been robbed of their personality.

Although objectivity has become a failure, journalists still do not want to give it up. Good journalism should not hide or impose biases, but rather challenge them, examine opposing views, and remain skeptical. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to abandon objectivity without resorting to biases. Given the circumstances, journalists may be better inclined to tell a story instead of creating an argument that attempts to persuade.

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The Expansion of Television Storytelling

Television has been spreading in new directions lately―popular TV shows are often the catalyst for toys, DVDs, videogames, iPhone apps, comics, websites and more. Television is no longer limited as a one-dimensional form of media, but it is rather flourishing as a multimedia platform. “Once people fall in love with a brand, they want to interact with it in all sorts of ways,” says Tony Cohen, the head of Fremantle Media. The Economist adds that “the point of the television business is no longer simply to make shows but to create branded entertainment franchises made up of many products of which television shows are merely the most important”. And media firms are certainly responding to the demand that has developed as a result of these shows and are consequently maximizing their profits through spin-offs and such: Fremantle Media recently reported that around one-third of their revenues come from spin-offs and other consumer goods.

TV shows aimed at young people, The Economist says, are increasingly inviting their audience to visit a corresponding website. The website serves as an outlet where fans can “Find out what music is playing in the background!”, “Discuss the show with other fans!”, and “See footage that did not make it into the final version!” to name a few. Because producers have seen the profitable power of branching their content, these websites are usually very dense, and well designed. Certain big-budget TV shows like “Lost” and “Heroes” have created web episodes in order to give flesh to the minor characters in the series. The “Heroes” website hosted cartoons, which eventually were compiled, printed and sold as graphic novels.

Hollywood has come to call these forms as “transmedia”. It refers to a kind of storytelling that goes beyond both a single platform and a single narrative. What this allows is the continuation of the main story on television, while adding a variety of extra content on different platforms that do not interfere with the main story but rather gives it a new-found degree of depth. It is also increasingly important in keeping viewers interested during the time when the show goes off-air.


It is not yet clear whether transmedia storytelling is profitable itself―its value is measured in audience engagement rather than advertising dollars. This is another example of how the media is being constructed around its viewers; the media is not focused on chasing direct advertising dollars anymore, but rather fueling the audience’s desire to further interact with their favorite brands. However, and perhaps inevitably, this means that the media is also constructing its audience by giving them a deeper, more immersive experience. This creates viewers that are more loyal to the show or genre that they favor; perhaps, even the music they listen to, or the games that they play have been influenced by their favorite shows.


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Cultural Globalization

The next century will be a time of uncertainty as the cultural globalization phenomenon finds itself on a larger scale than the world has ever seen. Alongside uncertainty, much debate commonly follows. A number of interesting questions have risen in the wake of the controversy―does globalization mean that we will all share one culture? Is globalization simply the westernization of the world?

In an attempt to tackle these questions, we must first take a step back and look at the history of globalization. Cultural globalization has pre-existed far beyond the western world, and dates back further than the British, and even Roman, empires. It has been occurring for as long as we can know and is the natural order of the world. Like all ‘empires’, the American one will pass to give way to a new one.

There is undoubtedly much more evidence that globalization has and continues to occur around us. Take the internet, or the telegram before that, for example. Or ideologies such as Marxism, Islam, or Christianity, to name a few. These may not seem like globalization to us at first, simply because the spread of these ideas and technologies precede us. In fact, there are many different forms of globalization apart from the commonly held theory of the expansion of an empire.

This is why the term globalization has always been met with fear and resistance, because it is a term that is used as another word for ‘empire’. In the context of a traditional empire, culture was something that was handed down from the center of the empire to its subjects, so to say.

However, what is not taken into consideration nowadays is that anyone who is able to access the internet has the ability to be a center and source of culture. Whenever we post on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter we are actors in the shaping and creation of a global, cultural identity.

The realization that almost anyone on this planet, regardless of where they live, can access the web and contribute to our global culture should sufficiently discount the Westernization theory. Just because the world shares American music, movies, and even food, does not mean that they share the same culture. It may prove otherwise, actually. In Indonesia, we are served rice at McDonald’s and there is sambal (hot sauce) available, instead of ketchup. In this instance, a symbol of American imperialism is adapting to the Indonesian culture and preserving it: it is not a matter of forcing conformity by any means.

More so, the integration of the world and its cultures has given rise to Nationalism and even Regionalism. It is now more important than ever for communities to use culture as a tool to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world. Empires will pass, says Régis Debray, “Let’s at least make sure that it does not leave irreparable damage to our creative abilities behind it”.


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Female Body Image

The ideal standards of female beauty are repeatedly represented in almost all forms of popular media today. These so-called standards, however, have proved to be unattainable by women for the most part; the majority of the models used in advertising are well below what is considered to be the healthy body weight. This, in addition to airbrushing, results in a society which is incessantly exposed to images that are not only unhealthy, but are unrealistic even for the models themselves. It has been shown that exposure to these unrealistic ideals produce negative effects on women, particularly in regards to body image and the resulting eating disorders, i.e. anorexia.

Anorexic model

It has also been shown, however, that women of all ages seem to be particularly vulnerable to physical dissatisfaction despite media-influence. This is due to the fact that the importance of physical appearance is asserted and reiterated in the early stages of female development. It appears that the media have quite knowingly exploited this fact, or in other words, the media has been cleverly constructed around it. They play on women’s discontent of their body image, to reinforce this feeling through constant exposure of unrealistic ideals, all so that they may provide them with the product, or ‘solution’, that will bring them closer to the ideal.

Although we have shown that media is constructed by or around society, it is perhaps blatant that media shapes us as a society. In the case of female body image, media has used women’s insecurity of their bodies and reflected and amplified it back to them―constructing a sometimes frightening view of how women perceive themselves in today’s society. It becomes easy to blame the mass media when you look at it this way, but on the other hand, studies show that women who have been taught not to compare themselves to these unrealistic ideals are less likely to suffer such negative effects. Can we blame society then, for neglecting to educate women about such things?

Post-war baby boom

Post-war baby boom

In addition to this, media has not always supported the skinny, anorexic ideal; the perfect woman has always and will continue to change over time. The perfect woman is subjective to her generation, whether it is considered to be healthy or unhealthy. For instance, after the World Wars the perfect woman was considered to be fuller in her female parts, a woman who appeared to be more able to produce children. In my opinion this is an excellent example of when the media supported a great cause, which inevitably led to the post-war baby boom. Prior to the First World War, the ideal woman was considered to be a ‘flapper’, one who retracted from the classic, feminine look, (and even wore bands around their breasts in order to flatten them) this was a result of the feminist movement for equality.

The mass media’s depiction of beauty today is in fact unhealthy, and possibly damaging, but they are only the messengers of their respective generation. It is easy to blame the media for the problems in our society; instead we must take it upon ourselves to use the media as a tool for what we need it to be. The media is constructed by or around us, but ultimately it will shape us; if we are not careful we might be the ones who do the worst for ourselves.



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