The Grass(roots) is always greener. The (counter) power of Citizen Journalism.

An aspiring journalist’s attempt to understand and value the role of citizen journalists within the social media landscape.

We live in a society where media users can become media makers. With the advent of social media we can now produce and consume culture in a new way.

Social media creates a different, not entirely new landscape, as Shirky argues that we have always been cultural producers. So, for example, influencing political protest over text messages demonstrates the use of a new medium, but the act of protest would have happened with or without the technology. Similarly, Castells argues social media presents a new site to examine cultural production, in this case, through citizen journalists.

It can be a Twitter update from a plane crash. It can be a photograph or video from a war zone. It can be a blog post on a WordPress site. Or, it can appear in a more traditional form, such as an editorial, on many sites: The Digital Journalist, The Huffington Post’s citizens media program called Off the Bus, CNN’s IReport, Ground Report, Now Public and many more.

So, what is *citizen journalism? Is it journalism on the cheap? Inexperienced hacks producing stories that are heavy on opinion and light on fact (some people may sadly apply this to mainstream media)? Is it a solution to mainstream media’ filter on our views? Is it a way to give voice to many that have traditionally been silenced or overlooked by the media?

According to Mark Glasser,Citizen Journalism is when people without professional journalism training can utilize social media tools, such as Twitter, camera phones, etc., and the Internet to “create, augment or fact-check media on their own or collaboration with others.” This is an example of a fairly new space where we see cultural production in action.

We need grassroots reporting, citizen journalists as news co-producers with journalists. Professional reporters can’t be everywhere, covering every angle at every event. And, so, Reporters and citizens are now working hand-in-hand during breaking news to ensure the most accurate, up to date information through social media.

So, really, social media has reshaped the way journalism operates, making the field more fluid and open to diverse experiences and new forms of reporting.

The interplay between citizens and the media is key as Castells says, “media is not the holder of power, but it constitutes by and large the space where power is decided.” Citizen journalists can use social media, to provide an alternative perspective in the media landscape, with hopes of challenging unequal power relations and changing the outcome of events by fostering transparency.

Citizen journalism provides valuable information that can democratize media, as well as countries. With the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, we’ve already seen the ability of social media, in the hands of citizen journalists, accomplish this.

I am going to illustrate how citizen journalists worked with journalists to co-produce news by utilizing mass self-communication, as a form of (counter) power through a case study (239).

Case Study: TED Talks: Journalist Paul Lewis explains the role citizen journalists played in investigating two murders. These examples highlight how social media and citizen journalism foster a new level of transparency and accountability in public life. Lewis explores the role citizen journalists played in the investigation of the murders.

I recognize that everyone may not have the chance to watch the full 17 minutes. So here is a short summary of the two events.

Questions to ask yourself as you watch the video:

Without a Smartphone, access to a video recorder or camera, citizen journalism is almost impossible. So, is the role of a ‘citizen journalist’ a role for the privileged?

 So then is Citizen Journalism a way to “challenge and eventually change the power relations in institutionalized society?” (Castells). 

Technically,  journalism is governed by ethics. Is the fact that citizen journalists are not accountable to those same ethics troubling? Lewis says, “Danger is that we are victim of hoaxes or their is deliberate information fed into the citizen domain.”

So, just like we need to hold journalists accountable for the information they provide we need to challenge the often “taken-for-granted virtues of “alternative” or “independent” media practices by nonprofessional or “citizen” journalists…[and] challenge the prevalent notion that citizen journalism is a sure means to subvert power relations.”

PS. If you are fascinated by the role of citizen journalists, like me, and want to read more, check out these sites! Please note that much has been written on the subject and these are only a few of many sites.

1. 11 websites citizen journalists should know about

2. 5 news stories changed by the rise of citizen journalists

3. The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism 

 *Please note that citizen journalism/journalist is a contested term. As not all participants may not be recognized as citizens and reporters are technically citizens, too.  

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One thought on “The Grass(roots) is always greener. The (counter) power of Citizen Journalism.

  1. […] will provide a quick recap from a previous post in case you are not familiar with the term and how it has changed the media […]

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