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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.

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Citizen Journalism – A Helping Hand

Citizen journalism seems to be considered a hindrance by many however welcomed by many others. I’m all for a citizen journalist because I believe the practicality of it serves journalism for the better rather than for the worse. A journalist is a lonely figure that covers the events unfolding before them, the media is merely a sea of these journalists doing the same thing and pooling it together and citizen journalists fall into this pool along with what are considered to be professional journalists.

When the events of 9/11 happened, it was a media frenzy that catapulted citizen journalism into the lime light when ordinary people could capture and report on parts of the story that not all journalists could. I believe citizen journalism adds a wider berth and colour, gathering information that would not necessarily have been placed into the public eye otherwise, be it through a poll, blog or comment, user-generated content gives a story a multifaceted view rather than that of the journalist who wrote it. As John Kelly notes in Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold, “blogs are often seen as the symbol of citizen journalism and it is telling us that most US and UK newspapers eventually embraced a form many once thought was toxic”.

The issue with citizen journalism is the professionalism of it. A lot argue that to report a good story a journalist needs the skills they could only acquire with proper training however that is not to say that an ordinary person is not capable of objectively telling us the story. But a trained journalist will be a better journalist as they have a wider knowledge and skill base of the area that they are working in. For many, citizen journalism isn’t even an attempt at bettering the media, but simply aiding it to report to the mass media or just to get their opinion out on a public scale and as this is the case it makes the material a good read but also one that is looked at with a great scepticism.

Many will look at citizen journalism as untrustworthy as it lacks the ethical and professional legitimacy of a trained journalism and I think this is the case as shown by John Kelly, “this legitimacy may be unknown with a blog or user-created site and, indeed, there have been cases where individuals have gamed the system, deliberately posting material they know not to be true.” Although it can be argued all media is looked at this way in recent times and citizen journalism is possibly more trusted as it is seen as relatable to you or me.

For me, citizen journalism is needed as much as the professional journalists themselves in order to contribute to it but I do not think it will ever be something that will replace the professionals. UGC was a worry for newspapers when it first came on the scene but what the media is now realising is that citizen journalism, in all its forms, is not a threat but a help as said by John Kelly, “The press borrows or appropriates forms it believes will strengthen its product, attract an audience or allow it to compete with newer types of media already using the techniques”. To conclude, citizen journalism and professional journalism work best together, as a neutral version written with skill alongside an opinion that adds colour.