On October 29 2012 a hurricane named ‘Sandy’ became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record devastating areas of the Mid-Atlantic, Caribbean and the North East of the US as well as having lesser affects in the Southwest, Midwest US states and Eastern Canada. Due to the severe damage caused by the hurricane, some reports referred to it as a ‘superstorm’. It was reported that
“after having left more than 60 people dead in the Caribbean, Hurricane Sandy is said to have caused the deaths of more than 80 people in its next port-of-call, the United States, including 41 in New York City alone”
It is thought that the economic losses range to around the $50 billion mark, with $12 billion stemming from the New York City metropolitan.
Citizen journalism became important in this with people beginning to take it on in different forms, in particular social media, e.g.
“When Hurricane Sandy made landfall on the evening of Oct. 29, many residents looked to social media to inform them on the latest happenings of the on-going devastation, which ranged from flood reports to reports of power outages and violent winds, to even fires. Millions used social networks like Twitter and Facebook to discover and share important news, as well as their own statuses with family and friends”
This is clear evidence citizen journalism became people’s source of news as well as using it to contribute with their own information. Social media became invaluable, with Facebook being a means of spreading information and fundraising. People affected by the storm were without these forms of communication and could not inform what was happening, so it required people to go into affected areas and report the information to outsiders, e.g.
“the people with the least access to the Internet as a result of the storm are the ones who may benefit the most from social media. Those who have ventured into the devastated areas have been able to get information out so that help can come in from informing those outside of the devastated areas”
Doing this allowed photos of the devastated areas to be documented online for the world to see, informing the public of what happened. This was a major influence for relief efforts, these images and the information released by citizen journalism prompted Facebook pages to start-up of people sharing experiences of the event and donation pages. Without this information being collected by outsiders, posting it online or giving the information to the news outlets, the destruction may not have been revealed on the level it was. These pages will survive longer than a television news broadcast and it
“continues to be a source of support and assistance”
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.
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.
Citizen journalism is basically when a citizen reports the news. There are two main forms of citizen journalism and one is that it is usually opportunistic however it can also be planned.
Once the information has been captured by a citizen, it is usually distributed through social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs (all products of the digital age).
The majority of people today have the access to all the information they need as well as internet at home or on the go, e.g. through a mobile phone. As well as this social media has been on the rise with Facebook and Twitter now a necessity for news organisations to use as a source of news.
There are many different types of citizen journalism and citizen journalists. As mentioned it can be opportunistic and this is the most common form of citizen journalism reported. This accidental form happens when a bystander or citizen happen to be in the right place at the right time, for example at the site of a tragedy that has just happened and they witness the incident unfolding before them and capture it through film, photos or write about the event. What the person does with the information they have captured is their own choice, they may post it their selves on their blog or through social media or in some cases, citizen journalists work with the media the get the message out to the public through global media and in a more professional context.
The other type of citizen journalist is somebody who has purposely placed their selves at the scene in order to capture an event as it unfolds to communicate this to the rest of the world. Although they have done this they will not have any journalistic training or background and therefore class as a citizen journalist, an ordinary person reporting like the professionals.
Local newspapers are boring and increasingly becoming a waste of time. Obviously it varies from town to town but in my experience local news has never really interested me and it is something that is often over-looked by most people, many choosing to get their news online whether it is local or national.
Most local newspapers are distributed to houses freely in a desperate attempt to gain readers or even to keep their loyal readers. I believe the main readers of local newspapers are that of the older generation who have been around the area a long time and enjoy engaging with the happenings of their town. Although if the older generation were brought up with technology they too might find that they would rarely look at local news and only online if they were to.
“The biggest change to the local and national media landscape over the past two decades is the emergence of new technology. There is now much more choice for people using media – whether it is audio, video or text – as digital technologies and the internet offer alternatives to traditional media platforms.”
The rise of bloggers and social media has made local news redundant. Everybody knows what is happening in their town with a constant flow of updates from their local Facebook friends or the Twitterverse before any local newspaper can tell you what is happening. Because of this it makes the regular newspaper that is posted through the door just another bit of junk mail which is never looked at and eventually thrown away.
The fact is that there is no money in local news anymore. In Richard Jones, ‘What do we mean by local?’ he speaks about how he set up his own hyperlocal news website, Saddlesworth News. Although he was able to reach a significant number in terms of readership he found difficulty in persuading local advertisers to become involved with his online venture.
“Most of the ads I did sell were to people who used the website as readers and had their own small online businesses”
(What do we mean by local? – Richard Jones)
Whether the local news is free or not there seems to be a major lack of money and a successful profit involved with producing it be it online or in traditional print. We cannot tell what will happen to local news but I feel it won’t be long until the traditional print of local newspapers becomes redundant and we use online if at all for our local news.
Social media is a popular term used these days, a term that would not have been used a decade ago and would have been relatively unknown. Twitter and Facebook did not exist, we didn’t have YouTube and the internet was just coming into popular use. Thus began the digital age and now you’ll be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn’t have a Twitter account let alone not know what it is.
Back in 2001 before the events of 9/11, before camera phones and social media really rose up citizen journalism didn’t really exist, it required specialist skills to take and upload video of a news event. People like business men who were specially trained in using html and were web savvy users able to create their own websites.
Fast forward to 2012 and everybody uses social media, anybody can create a website or have a blog in the digital age. Now news is instantly confirmed via mobile apps or we can check Facebook status’ or tweets whereas before we would have had to email or call via a landline. As well as this, news organisations now use social media to better cover information they were unable to then, calling on the masses for their input via UGC.
“The story is simple: 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.”
(Rosen, 10 years Can Be a Long Time: The World Wide Web on 9/11)
The rise of social media has come about hand in hand with traditional news however there are some who fear the digitizing of news.
“Most people are still happy to rely on mainstream news organisations to sort fact from fiction and serve up a filtered view, but they are increasingly engaged by this information, particularly when recommended by friends or another trusted source.”
The thing about Twitter is there is a flow of false information for example the deaths of numerous celebrities, which can be so easily taken in, not just by the gullible but by credible news organisations hoping to break the story first and trusting the first bit of information they see on Twitter.
However I feel that social media is an aid for journalism despite its’ downfalls. I believe that the way it breaks news through trending topics and collating all the news in one ideal location has created a greater interest in news through a great online discussion and the spreading need to share information with others. Social media is enabling live coverage of events such as hurricane Sandy which allows bursts of information as it is happening before leading people to the in-depth piece they will want to read.
Social media is just the beginning and something we are embracing. It will continue to rise and rise with journalism and ten years from now who knows just how we will be communicating and getting our news. It will evolve to fill the void just like social media did in the past decade and we can only wait for what the future holds.