Email Interview with citizen journalism group, Demotix
Do you consider citizen journalism a gift or menace to news reporters?
If a reporter cares about the future of journalism and transparency they should consider citizen journalism a plus. Citizen journalism is very fair, and the pay scale is much more giving as well. More importantly, instead of sending a journalist with little knowledge of a foreign place, we now have the local citizens telling the stories.
When do you believe the phrase ‘citizen journalist’ became common?
I’d just wiki that.
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).
Phones have definitely changed everything, specifically smartphones and apps. This is something that has yet to really pick up, but it certainly will. Ex: The Hudson River crash
What do you consider to be the pros and cons of citizen journalists?
There are dozens of pros, but one con is reliability and a lack-of a unified code of ethics. But, these are are obstacles, which can be tackled with a proper editorial staff.
Do you think there are any economical implications for working news reporters that cause them to rely on citizen journalists?
News papers are definitely relying on citizen journalists or untapped professional journalists. Images especially are coming from the scene all across the Middle East and Africa directly from local citizen journalists. These aren’t reporters placed by news papers or agencies.
Do you believe a relationship between the ‘professional’ and the citizen journalist could be successfully operated?
100% – a lot is still to be revealed, but its well on its way – especially in our office.
What do you predict for the future of citizen journalism?
Citizen journalism will not be the only way, but it will have a huge holding in the media. I think this is unstoppable. Citizen journalism can likely help save the media industry as well. Transparency across the globe will heavily increase as well as citizen journalism grows. This will also create a larger calling for good fact finders.
The London riots erupted in 2011 between August 6 and 10, after the protests in Tottenham that followed the death of Mark Duggan. Duggan was a local man shot dead by police sparking protest from the community,
“About 300 people gathered outside the police station on the High Road after demonstrators demanded ‘justice’”
The protests quickly escalated into riots which led to shops being looted and arson attacks. The following days saw ‘copycat violence’ take place in other parts of London, spreading to other major cities. Afterwards several arrests were made, e.g.
“About 3,100 people so far have been arrested, of whom over 1,100 have been through the courts for offences ranging from burglary and arson, to violence and disorder”
Citizen journalism played a crucial role as for many; the riots began with Twitter messages shortly before 9pm on 6 August. Many rioters failed to cover their face and posted pictures of themselves with stolen goods online. Despite London’s use of CCTV cameras throughout the city the police ended up using social networking site Flickr to find those responsible. This is evidence that citizen footage was used more than previous methods of gathering information, in this case on a crime, as stated
“beyond the lenses of CCTV however, citizens are snapping looters in action, without the identity-hiding garb. Many of the alleged perpetrators are easily identifiable — if you happen to know who they are”
Social media was relied on further with Facebook pages created to identify looters involved and news organisations deployed live maps confirming areas where there had been verified lootings to navigate the dangerous and crowded areas,
“With 500 members and growing, the ‘Lets catch the London 201 rioters and looters’ Facebook community page features a growing collection of both photos and videos”
Blackberry messenger was used to help organise the rioters however some experts, such as Megan Boler, say it does not matter what method of communication was used as due to the digital age the technology and the use of it has taken over to an extent,
“It’s ubiquitous technology, It’s everywhere”
The police were also using it to track down rioters. BBM gave rioters the ability to contact individuals or broadcast messages to entire contact lists instantly, revealing where riots were currently taking place and keeping note of the police’s activity. A secure server for these messages made it difficult for the police to track them. This is evidence that with the rise of the digital age, the citizen journalists created and the use of technology, it is more an aid for those raised within it than the older generations. Twitter also played a for citizens and journalists reporting and following live updates on the riots and received a lot of criticism for its part, e.g.
“The Daily Mail was particularly quick to blame Twitter for helping to orchestrate the rioting and for spreading triumphal images from the rioters themselves. One picture of a burning police car was retweeted over 100 times and the Mail reported that the ‘troublemakers’ on Twitter were encouraging ‘scores more people into the area’”
The police were a firm believer in Twitter being used for ‘evil’ as much as BBM was, e.g.
“in an age of social media in which disgruntled youth are frequently more skilled with smart phones than are the adults who police them, London authorities believe handheld technologies may have helped those trying to instigate violence to spread their message”
Twitter became the communication method of choice and citizens were quick to defend it against the criticisms of helping crime, stating it was the people behind the accounts,
“Speed Communications managing director, Stephen Waddington, defended Twitter’s role: ‘Twitter is being used to exchange messages in the way that previous generations used technology such as phone, email and SMS. To claim that Twitter had a role in the Tottenham riots is as credible as placing the blame at the hands of mobile phone handset manufacturers or mobile operators.’”
Twitter has become an effective form of communication with users able to retweet and hashtag, easing the effort of spreading the word. Also being thought it was used for good when spreading messages, retweeting news rather than user’s original content, e.g.
“it may be premature to suggest, as some British tabloids have, that the service somehow fuelled the chaos. Sure, users retweeted an image of a burning police car 100 times during the riot, but it hardly follows automatically that this image inspired anyone to grab a crowbar and start smashing the windows of electronics stores”
Also we cannot forget the mobile phone. Police requested information from mobile phone operators to aid their capture of criminals involved, asking for
“data about the locations calls were made from, the owners of phones, and lists of calls made to and from a particular handset”
This event is a clear message there’s a developing generation divide for citizen journalism, with the younger, ‘digital’ generation wielding this new communication method as well as being quick to defend it, and the older generation quick to criticise it.
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”
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”
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’”
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.”
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”