Citizen Journalism – Student Protests Case Study

In 2010 in the UK, thousands of hours of mobile phone footage was uploaded onto YouTube and social media networks of the student protests over increased tuition fees for university students. In November 2010 there was a series of demonstrations against planned spending cuts to further education and an increase in the cap on tuition fees. Students felt the cuts were excessive and broke campaign promises made by politicians. However the protests turned violent as

“The scale of the London protest defied expectations, with an estimated 50,000 turning out to vent their anger at government plans to raise tuition fees while cutting the state grant for university teaching”

(http://web.archive.org/web/20101112061311/http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/nov/10/student-protest-fees-violent).

The rise of citizen journalism through social media came through this event and was crucial when used in the organisation of the protest, e.g.

“Using Facebook and Twitter to organize protest marches and occupations of university buildings, and to debate the issues, allowed for much more fluid and rapid organization to emerge than would be possible going through “official” channels. It also meant that the movement could reach out beyond the university student body to include school pupils, parents, university staff and the wider public”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age). 

There became a constant information flow on the protest, kept up to the minute by protesters using Twitter on their phones to report where they were and what was happening. As the police attempted to contain certain locations, word spread to the protesters to avoid these problems using this information. Although police had access to these media channels they could not act quickly enough, e.g.

“While police and authorities also had access to the Twitter feeds, Facebook pages and Google maps created by protesters, the speed with which protesters were able to manoeuvre and the distributed nature of participation meant that authorities could not effectively respond to protests via these channels”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age).

This gives evidence that the younger generation were more skilled at using forms of citizen journalism as they grew up in the ‘digital age’.

These protests were an example of how citizen journalism adds to a subject already reported on by the main stream media, e.g.

“While the protests received extensive news coverage on TV, online and in newspapers, digital media enabled students to directly reach a much wider public, providing their own account of events and articulating the issues in their own words”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age)

and getting these messages to the public became an important part of the protester’s cause. Mainstream reporting only focused on the violence of students during the protests but the forms of citizen journalism that came to light showed events that were ignored by these media organisations such as the Jody McIntyre incident, a student who was pulled out of his wheelchair by police. This was photographed by protesters and information was circulated throughout social media before being picked up by the BBC, leading to a controversial TV interview. It is stated that

“this kind of “citizen journalism” can have an impact on the mainstream news agenda, but more importantly it also allowed the protesters’ to communicate their own, broader agenda to the wider public”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age).

The way social media was used has revolutionised the way digital media affects democracy and

“allowed more genuine democratic participation than would be possible through the more formalized avenues of representative elective government or bureaucratic trade unions”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age).

This is all evidence that citizen journalism has become a way for people to make their voices heard against traditional forms of political participation and is leading to it being an option for everyone, e.g.

“the movement lives on in both physical and virtual networks, blog discussions, email lists, Twitter feeds and Facebook groups open to participation from all, and determined to carry on making their voices heard until politicians listen”

(http://dmlcentral.net/blog/lyndsay-grant/uk-student-protests-democratic-participation-digital-age). 

Citizen Journalism – London Bombings Case Study

On July 7 2005 the London bombings happened when a series of suicide attacks were used to target citizens using the public transport at rush hour in London. Four bombs were set off across London, three across underground trains throughout the city and one on a double decker bus. This attack lead to the death of the bombers, also

“killing 52 people and injuring more than 770”

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/uk/05/london_blasts/what_happened/html/).

This tragedy led people to believe this was the start of the “accidental journalist” which has been defined as

“the people who find themselves in a situation they did not expect, but feel the need to share it on their blog, with a news web site or on Twitter”

(http://www.mediarhetoric.com/blog/how-the-internet-changed-after-911-citizen-journalism-social-media-and-mobility).

This was a time when more people had camera phones and could capture the real time chaos as it unfolded, which the media could not and people started to realise the impact of citizen journalism. According to the BBC they received 22,000 emails and text messages about the London bombings. 300 photos were sent into the BBC from witnesses at the scene with 50 of these being within the hour of the first bomb being set off. As well as the photos, the media received several video clips, e.g. “7 July 2005 marked a turning point for the media. That was the day the phenomenon of

“user-generated content” (UGC) or “citizens’ journalism” came into its own in Britain, as members of the public took over the roles of photographers and news correspondents”

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5142702.stm).

As these events happened underground the media were far from the action and unable to get to the scene as fast as somebody already there. They would not have been able to accurately cover the actual story along with the details involved, unable to deliver them to the public. The photos enabled it to be confirmed that a bomb had gone off rather than a power surge as was first suggested. Videos sent in from passengers on the tubes actually led the BBC’s six o’clock news bulletin,

“the first time such material had been deemed more newsworthy than the professionals’ material”

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5142702.stm).

This marked an important step in the rise of citizen journalism as for the first time on a public scale, citizen’s reports were considered more important than the professionals.

Two weeks after there were several more bombings attempted but the public already knew what was expected of them and this has developed even more. This led to news organisations taking on staff to deal with user generated content. At the time of the event, the BBC’s editor for interactivity, Vicky Taylor, said:

“We now get 10,000 e-mails a day and 200 pictures a week, just as a matter of course – and when there is a big story it goes through the roof”

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5142702.stm).

According to the BBC this led to them publish up to ten times more content than before, although it was criticised for possibly leading to citizens putting themselves in danger to get the best content. This criticism was by journalists whereas citizen journalists admired the way it democratised the media, taking power away from a select few. Citizen journalism was seen as a powerful tool at this time however some feel it is too difficult to define, e.g.

“’citizens’ journalism’ is too vague and all-encompassing, since many of the people submitting photos, information and views do not see themselves as journalists at all”

(http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5142702.stm).

This is evidence that citizen journalism is seen as something on the rise and the everyday person is doing more, leaving the professional aspect of the term to fade.

Citizen Journalism – 9/11 Case Study

In 2001 the September 11 attacks happened. These were a series of suicide attacks against the United States of America in the New York and Washington areas. The iconic moment being when terrorists hijacked four passenger planes and flew two into the north and south towers of the world trade centre in New York. As well as this the third plane crashed into the pentagon and the fourth was destined for the United States Capitol Building in Washington however passengers tried to overcome the hijackers and forced the plane to crash into a field near Pennsylvania. Due to this tragedy

“nearly 3,000 people from all over the world died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. They Included 67 British people and around 300 New York fire-fighters. About 260 passengers and crew on board the four crashed aeroplanes were also killed”

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/14854816).

Many believe these attacks to be the rise of citizen journalism and the beginning of the digital age, e.g.

“September 11 was a wakeup call to us all on how we should be getting information. September 11 changed the Internet and the way we search and need information. People were reaching out and posting their own stories on web sites that we now would call a blog”

(http://www.mediarhetoric.com/blog/how-the-internet-changed-after-911-citizen-journalism-social-media-and-mobility).

Back to 2001 before the events of 9/11 and citizen journalism didn’t really exist. We didn’t have camera phones or social media. Shooting and uploading video of a news event was considered a specialist skill along with html and website construction. Fast forward to 2012 and everybody uses social media. Now anybody can create a website or have a blog. People would rather get their news from social networking sites such as Facebook statuses or tweets. As stated by Stuart Allen,

“This invitation to “be the media,” and thus to challenge traditional definitions of what counted as “news” as well as who qualified as a “journalist,” was very much consistent with the animating ethos of the Internet. Hundreds of refashioned websites began to appear over the course of September 11, making publicly available eyewitness accounts, personal photographs, and in some cases video footage of the unfolding disasters”

(Allan, Stuart (2002) Reweaving the Internet: Online news of September 11, cited in Zelizer, Barbie and Allan, Stuart (2002) Journalism after 9/11, Psychology Press, p.127).

Even news organisations are using social media to cover information they were previously unable to and collect information through comment boards, all in an effort to collate user generated content to build on or create new stories, e.g.

“Citizens, not reporters, were our information source besides the traditional news media. People were looking for ways to connect after this tragic event. Unfortunately, this was a void in the ‘new media’”

(http://www.mediarhetoric.com/blog/how-the-internet-changed-after-911-citizen-journalism-social-media-and-mobility).

In 2001 we would have just discovered email and be confirming stories via landline. The methods of information collection we use today did not exist and were in their very early stages, e.g.

“Many of the major features of how we live, communicate, and get our information today did not exist — or at least were in their very nascent stages — in 2001. The entire Internet had 500 million users and something like 3 million public websites. HTML 4.0, which gave the web its basic features, had just entered its final published state. Facebook and Gmail wouldn’t launch for another three years; Twitter for another five. Google was not yet a recognizable verb. Another difference: No one at school had cell phones, let alone wireless Internet access.”

(http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/09/10-years-can-be-a-long-time-the-world-wide-web-on-9-11/244795/).

When the events of 9/11 happened, it was a media frenzy that catapulted citizen journalism into the limelight when ordinary people could capture and report on stories that journalists couldn’t, e.g.

“Smart Phones, Social Media, Mobile Apps were all discovered because someone wanted to fill a need. Maybe 9/11 was the reason because we saw the potential of the Internet. Unfortunately, the Internet could not deliver the results it could today. Ten years taught us that we want information and we want it now”

(http://www.mediarhetoric.com/blog/how-the-internet-changed-after-911-citizen-journalism-social-media-and-mobility).

Citizen Journalism – A Literature Review

Looking at relevant pieces of literature it is clear that there are some who believe that citizen journalism has become an advantage and there are others who believe that citizen journalism is a disadvantage. Barbie Zelizer’s book, ‘Journalism after 9/11’, talks about how the events of 9/11 have begun to recast the expectations of journalism in modern day news, particularly in the Western world.

I agree that this was a clear example of how a tragic event made us realise the void in our lives and that we need to change in the future, in this case it is referring to citizen journalism. Zelizer also agree that 9/11 sparked the development of citizen journalism. Although it existed it was barely noticed in an age before technology, as she states

“September 11 has decisively transformed the everyday contexts within which many journalists routinely operate”

(Zelizer, Barbie and Allan, Stuart (2002) Journalism after 9/11, Psychology Press, p.1).

This backs up my research into the event as it goes on to compare what the journalistic world was like before 2001 compared to after the events of 9/11, to start it states

“News organisations-together with their sources-lacked a readymade ‘script’ to tell their stories, a frame to help them and their audiences comprehend the seemingly incomprehensible”

and goes on to compare this to today’s media after events like 9/11 shaped citizen journalism and developed it into the forefront of news, e.g.

“From the perspective of today, of course it is easier to discern the emergence and embodiment of the responses they crafted and the interests they sought to advance”

(Zelizer, Barbie and Allan, Stuart (2002) Journalism after 9/11, Psychology Press, p.1).

However one thing that is not certain anyone is the future. Looking at the way citizen journalism has changed over time the one thing that is particularly clear is that we cannot know what the future will hold for journalism, as Zelizer says

“Far less clear, however, is what their lasting impact will be for journalism in a post-September 11 world”

(Zelizer, Barbie and Allan, Stuart (2002) Journalism after 9/11, Psychology Press, p.1).

Aaron Barlow goes on to say how he believes that citizen journalism is putting the power of the news back into the hands’ of the public and citizen journalists have become a necessity due to the lack of coverage by professionals. He says that journalists have kept their selves distant from the issues they cover and that this distance is becoming greater causing a need and reliance on public journalism, e.g.

“Journalists have come to see themselves as simply stenographers, taking note of events and presenting them to those not able to be present. As such, they have also decided that they have to present both sides of any issue if they are reporting dispassionately, no matter how absurd one side may be”

(Barlow, Aaron (2007) The rise of the blogosphere, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 139).

He goes on to agree that any previous void of journalism missing in our life has now been filled or is in the process of filling as he agrees with Zelizer to the point of saying that 9/11 made us aware of this and it has changed ever since, e.g.

“Earlier it wasn’t possible for the average citizen to be involved in this process. Technology was unavailable, and distance was great. Those barriers have been erased and with them (in some eyes) has gone any necessity for traditional professional and commercial journalism”

(Barlow, Aaron (2007) The rise of the blogosphere, Greenwood Publishing Group, p.141).

This is all clear evidence to state that journalism has taken a change, if not over the past decade, it at least changed due to citizen journalism and it was essentially created as it developed from professional to citizen status. The rise of citizen journalism also makes it clear that it is actually separate from professional journalism despite developing from it, as it is stated by Barlow that

“the citizen journalists believe that, through utilization of internet possibilities both for research and for publication, they can sidestep the journalism profession altogether, at the same time getting around the commercial considerations that drive so much of contemporary news media and that encroach on the public sphere”

(Barlow, Aaron (2007) The rise of the blogosphere, Greenwood Publishing Group, p.141).

The rise of the digital age began to take hold and news organisations realised that they had to use the internet to satisfy the public needs however where the traditional journalists failed by simply transferring their work online, citizen journalists thrived in a new online environment full of possibilities.

As I have referred to in other pieces of literature throughout my research it is clear the majority back up citizen journalism as an aid and an advantage as it has developed in the past decade however there are disadvantages that cannot be overlooked which will be discussed in the findings.

How Can We Tell The Nature Of The Citizen Journalist Has Changed? – Methodology

To research into the change of citizen journalism I have carried out interviews with experts from both sides of the arguments so that I have the views and opinions of professional journalists as well as the views of citizen journalist groups to gain a multifaceted view of the issue.

As well as this I have conducted an analysis of five news events over the past decade as a form of case studies, and will be looking at the way citizen journalism was alive at the time and how it was used by the professionals and the citizen journalists. I will then be comparing and assessing how this form of journalism has developed as the years have gone by, developing from something that required a professional and knowledge to your everyday citizen being more newsworthy.

The case studies I will be looking at are as follows:

  • (2001) 9/11 terrorist attacks
  • (2005) London bombings
  • (2010) Student protests
  • (2011) London riots
  • (2012) Hurricane Sandy

The Nature Of The Citizen Journalist Has Changed

I am going to research into how the nature of citizen journalists has changed and now anybody with a phone can be a journalist.

I believe citizen journalism has developed over time and I am going to look into how the nature of citizen journalists has changed and how the citizen journalist is no longer skilled and technically knowledgeable compared to somebody with the ability to just use their mobile phone.

This has led to a number of research questions which stem from the hypothesis such as:

  • When did the phrase citizen journalism become common? – They are a product of the digital age and the term had to start somewhere.
  • What were people producing in 2001 that was called citizen journalism? – Before we used social media what kind of data was being produced and used by news organisations and people claiming to be citizen journalists.
  • How does citizen journalism compare now in huge events e.g. Hurricane Sandy compared to ones of the past e.g. 9/11? – There has been a development over time of the term citizen journalist which needs to be analysed to see how time has taken its toll.
  • How do other factors such as price of technology affect the citizen journalist? – A smaller factor but one that has an effect compared to the power and money of news organisations.
  • What is a citizen journalist? – There are many different definitions and it is a hard term to fully define.
  • What are the pros and cons of citizen journalism? – There are two sides to the term which need to be analysed to discover if citizen journalism is to be considered an advantage or disadvantage in modern days news reporting.

Where Did Citizen Journalism Come From?

A big question that arises is where did citizen journalism stem from?

It had to be created somewhere and many believe it to have risen from the tragic event of 9/11 and the evolution of the digital age that we now live in.

With the speed of the internet and newer technologies developing every day, the everyday person has the ability to capture the news and report it.

Suddenly it seems that the professional journalists lack the ability to report the news as efficiently as this new breed of competition, possibly due to an older generation still within news organisations.

Reporters are unable to act quickly enough to accurately and extensively cover an event and this has created a debate about the worth of citizen journalists and whether they are a positive or negative affect on journalism.

I believe that there are many events that compare how we see citizen journalism and show how it has developed that need to be analysed to really grasp how it has changed within the past decade in particular.