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.
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.
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.