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”.
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.