Email interview with Professor of Journalism, Michael Bromley
Do you consider citizen journalism a gift or menace to news reporters?
I don’t think it is either. it can assist reporters by providing additional information, perspective; and it can hinder by being misleading or inaccurate.
When do you believe the phrase ‘citizen journalist’ became common?
Probably with the emergence of ohmynews – sometime soon after 2000
Do you believe that the nature of the citizen journalist has changed in the past decade? (e.g. now anybody with a phone can be a journalist).
No. fundamentally, citizen journalism is the same as it was. what has changed is the scope of various allied practices, such as user-generated content (which is not synonymous with citizen journalism).
What do you consider to be the pros and cons of citizen journalists?
Pros = multiplicity of voices; multi-perspectival; expansion of the public sphere; a counter to corporate media dominance. cons = lack of definition (anything counts).
Do you think there are any economical implications for working news reporters that cause them to rely on citizen journalists?
The economic constraints on reporters were evident long before cj appeared. indeed, it could be argued that the gross deficiencies in reporting which built up from the 1980s gave rise to cj because vast areas of human activity were simply not being reported either adequatetly or at all.
Do you believe a relationship between the ‘professional’ and the citizen journalist could be successfully operated?
Interesting question, and one which is asked in many occupations. how is the relationship between the professional and the amateur managed in the military, in health services, in the emergency services, etc.? the way journalists talk about cjs you wouldn’t think that 70 per cent of fire fighters in the us are citizen amateurs, or that the invasion and occupation of iraq was undertaken primarily by citizen soldiers in the national guard. this is something the british army is now going to have to deal with.
What do you predict for the future of citizen journalism?
The core will survive indefinitely; the periphery (the modish) will not last long.
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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”
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.