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Running head: CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A

LITERARY ANALYSIS

Citizen Journalism and its Role in News Reporting: A Literary Analysis


Parker Sauvageau
Fall 2016
Global Communications
Dr. Juliet Evusa
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 1
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Abstract
The focus of this study is on the importance of citizen journalism on a global
level and to determine if it is important to news reporting as a whole. New
factors like the internet have caused citizen journalism to grow and become
a prominent feature in the journalism community. On a global level, citizen
journalists have proven themselves by providing original content that is first
hand and, often times, while the event is happening. Though there is some
tension between traditional journalism and citizen journalism, literature finds
both to be critical for reporting stories in an unbiased, inclusive manner.
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 2
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Citizen Journalism and its Role in News Reporting: A Literary Analysis


Not only is citizen Journalism an interesting concept; it also plays a
major role within news media. With the real threat of terrorism, natural
disasters, epidemics, and civil war around the world, there has been a push
for more news reporting. However, there are many draw backs to traditional
news reporting from larger television conglomerates. Since many
mainstream conglomerates are privately owned, they are able to dictate
content. This means that what the viewer is hearing or seeing may be biased
towards the conglomerates ideologies. Since the 90s, there has been a push
to participate in cyber-activism. This means that individuals who do not like
the current system of news reporting are taking steps to provide what they
think is a somewhat unbiased stance.
The nature of citizen Journalism has gradually evolved into a
progressive truth seeking reporting system whose goal is to provide real
news and information without being tainted by money or the larger
networks power. This is why citizen journalism is so important in society.
Since what is see on television is mediated and swayed towards the
networks views, it is nearly impossible to figure out the truth in many cases.
The best way to receive information that can be trusted is by attending the
event, or receiving the news through a medium that is known to be trusted.
One must see the importance of supporting the bottom-up approach to news
reporting because it gives the viewer a perspective he or she may have
never had on the subject.
Citizen journalism is revolutionary in the way that any person with a
cell phone could potentially be a non-professional journalist. An example of
where this was seen was on 9/11/2001, when the World Trade Centers were
attacked. Though phones were less advanced at that time, some bystanders
were able to capture the carnage unfolding. Many of these videos were
posted online and some were even viewed through mainstream sources like
CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX. Without these videos, there would still be many
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 3
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pieces missing about what actually happened that day. This single event
shows how important citizen journalism is around the world. The purpose of
this essay is to analyze citizen journalism on a global level and to determine
if it is important to news reporting as a whole.
Literature Review
Journalism is an important component in information exchange,
therefore it is important to know and understand the different mediums that
can be used to report, namely citizen journalism. This style of journalism is
important to define and understand because it provides additional methods
for news to be reported in comparison to traditional styles.
To better understand how citizen journalism operates and obtains
information now, it is critical to look at the history of citizen journalism.
Corinne Barnes (2012) discusses the short history of citizen Journalism
saying, [It] was popularized in the late 1990s as more and more people, in
both the developed and developing worlds, became connected to the
internet (p. 18). The rise of the internet, or public usage at least, spurred
the progression of individuals capturing news worthy events. The term
citizen journalism has not been around long. Many researchers have
concluded that citizen journalism has grown and evolved with the
progression of the internet (Barnes, 2012). Victoria Mirvajova (2014), writer
of The Golden Age of Citizen Journalism, notes the definition of citizen
journalism as:
the gathering, writing, editing, production and distribution of
news information by people not trained as professional
journalists. Citizen journalists are non-professionals who collect
disseminate and analyze news on blogs, wikis, and sharing
websites using tablets, laptops, cell phones, digital cameras and
other mobile and wireless technologies. (p. 150)
Some skepticism for the origin and timeline of citizen journalism has
emerged, proposing that it has been a style of journalism since the
eighteenth century. Public figures like Thomas Paine, who were influential in
news reporting history, used citizen journalism tactics to report and
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distribute articles focusing on politics and propaganda (Barnes, 2012).
Though citizen journalism has been present for hundreds of years, modern
day citizen journalism has flourished with the internet.
Going back to her original focus on the combined evolution of the
internet and citizen journalism, Barnes (2012) indicates that it is a hard
concept to successfully understand, stating this concept has been variously
labelled grassroots journalism, networking journalism, open source
journalism, citizen media, participatory journalism, hyperlocal journalism,
and bottom-up journalism (p. 18). With such a wide variety of terms placed
on this style of journalism, one may be confused with how the process
actually happens. The biggest difference between new mainstream news
media and citizen journalism is control over the content. The general concept
for citizen journalism relies on the individual obtaining information from an
inside perspective. Because the information being reported is first hand,
there may be less bias. In contrast, larger mainstream media providers look
at news from the outside. Instead of obtaining information from sources or
individuals who are experiencing the events, mainstream media takes what
information is available and edits the information to fit the views of the
station, editor, or media leaders.
There are a few basic differences between traditional and citizen
journalism. Mirvajova focuses on 5 individual categories: sources, borders
between fact and opinion, the audience, attitude to truth, and independence
(Mirvajova, 2014). The most notable difference between the two styles are
their sources; the core information they obtain. Traditional journalists get
their information through primary sources then proceed to analyze and write
the story. Often times these sources of information come from documents or
interviews with individuals involved in the event (Mirvajova, 2014). In
contrast, citizen journalism obtains source material from first hand
encounters, further boosting credibility. Mirvajovas second comparison
discusses what is fact and opinion, comparing traditional and citizen
journalism. Traditional journalism, though still present, does not exhibit the
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level of writer opinion that citizen journalism does. Professional journalists
are paid to report on the facts and do so in a systematic fashion. Separately,
citizen journalists are not regulated or required to adhere to fact only writing
and are able to put emotions, thoughts, and feelings into their work. This
does create concerns for some because opinion based writing is more biased.
However, the redeeming factor in this case is that citizen journalists are first
hand reporters, so the thoughts and feelings reported on are often raw and
uncensored, a stark contrast to traditional journalism.
The third point, audience, pertains to who will see the published
content. The audience for traditional journalism is a well defined population
of individuals. Large scale news reporting is the key for traditional journalism
because of the financial benefits. On the other hand, citizen journalists may
experience only one view. The possible audiences for citizen journalists are
broad, depending on the topic discussed. An example of this would be the
recent Presidential election where individuals on both sides created blogs
which outlined current events and polls in real time. These blogs and social
media pages were widely viewed throughout the campaign process.
Mirajovas fourth point, attitude to truth, uncovers some setbacks
related to citizen journalism. Because traditional journalists have journalistic
standards, and the individuals reporting are trained, there is a heightened
level of respect for the laws and ethics associated with journalism. Mirajova
(2014) comments, As citizen journalist, you need to keep asking yourself if
what you discovered is really news? Do you have two sources? Are those
sources credible? Do you have corroborating evidence? Repeat this process
indefinably (p. 154). It is important for citizen journalist to look at their
information in ways that are objective. However, the key feature of citizen
journalism is highlighted in the final point made by Mirajovas.

Finally, independence, the final point made by Mirajovas touches on


the notion that citizen journalists are not restricted to traditional platforms
and content. Instead, citizen journalists are able to present their information
globally without the help of large conglomerates. This further enables the
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content to be writer driven. Additionally, corporations like Yahoo and Google
are interested in the original content many citizen journalists have to offer.

Global Implications

From natural disasters and civil unrest, to acts of violence, the world
has experienced its terrors in the 21st century. Citizen journalism has played
an important role in reporting these events as they happen. For American
citizens, the most memorable event that occurred in the 2000s was on 9/11.
Terrorists attacked several U.S. locations killing thousands and leaving many
more injured. Highlighting the importance of citizen journalists, Barnes
(2012) notes:
within minutes, before traditional media entities could get to
the scene, photographs which ordinary citizens were taking on
their mobile devices were being used by traditional media
organizations to paint a picture of those horrific events, until
mainstream media were able to dispatch reporters to the area.
Traditional media relied heavily on citizen media to piece
together the story as it unfolded (p. 22).
Barnes example demonstrates that traditional media sources relied heavily
on citizens to paint the picture for the rest of the world to see.
Building on Barnes view of citizen journalism being important, writer
Omar Al-Ghazzi discusses how citizen journalism has affected Syria in recent
years. During the Arab uprising citizen journalists were a key component in
reporting the events that were happening. On a greater scale, citizen
journalism actually spurred individual protests and other conflicts that
happened. Al-Ghazzi (2014) notes, [citizen journalists] were instrumental in
efforts to mobilize political action against brutal dictatorships, but they were
also used as a weapon of war and tool of torture (p. 436). His statement
points out that though citizen journalists have provided avenues for change,
corrupt leaders and individuals have used this means of journalism to stage
events for their benefit. Additionally, individuals who associated themselves
with ISIS filmed themselves questioning Sunni Muslims about prayer,
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eventually leading to the execution of the Sunni individuals (Al-Ghazzi,
2014). This is an extreme example of how citizen journalism can negatively
affect the public. Though this video was not aired on major news sources, it
still represents the darker side of journalism. However, a lot of positive things
came from citizens reporting the events. Published in the Journal of Risk
Research, Gabe Mythen (2010) states, public contributions can enhance the
diversity of the media mix and open up wider a broader channels of
communication about risk (p. 49). The diverse channels enabled the locals
in the Syrian uprising to be alerted to possible risk in addition to first hand
details of ongoing events.
Another geographic region that has experienced an increase in citizen
journalism is Mexico. Mexicos drug cartels are progressively making it more
dangerous for traditional journalism. Because there is much fear for
traditional journalists, citizens have become the primary means of reporting
information. One of the major mediums used is the Blog. One Blog that has
entertained a wide audience is called Blog del Narco, which focuses on
informing the public about conflict. Andres Monroy-Hernandez and Luis
Daniel Palacios (2014), writers published in Georgetown Journal of
International Affairs, note Blog del Naco serves as a destination for
anonymous leakers and bloggers to broadcast private information otherwise
ignored by traditional media (p. 89). In this region, Blogs and sources like
Blog del Narco are extremely valuable. Not only do they present real time
information, they also discuss issues that the cartels and government are not
able to censor.

In the United States, citizen journalists have provided valuable


information and coverage of violent events including a police related
shooting in Minnesota. After being pulled over by local authorities for a
broken tail light, Philando Castile was shot and killed. Castiles fianc was
close by and used her cell phone to record the events in real, time posting
them on Facebooks live feature (McLaughlin, 2016). Though the fianc had
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 8
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no experience journalistically, she was able to provide valuable information
and evidence, something traditional journalism could never do in that
situation.

Discussion

Citizen journalism is clearly a growing part of modern journalism, but


the overall importance to journalism remains under debate. Barnes (2012)
comments on the success of citizen journalism by stating, it is becoming
increasingly clear that, armed with easy-to-use new tools and mobile devices
that make publishing so much easier, the online audience has the means to
become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and
information (p. 25). Because the internet is used by such a large percentage
of the world, citizens have gained the power to report. This is a substantial
step forward in all forms of journalism. It is no longer the trained
professionals that are obtaining all information, but rather first hand
accounts, like citizen journalists, that give traditional media its power.
Though only topical research has been done over blogs, they can be
recognized as a primary medium for citizen journalists, and are invaluable to
social causes. Clyde Bentley (2011), professor at the University of Missouri
concludes, The impact of the blogging tidal wave is immeasurable (p. 106).
The importance and growth of citizen journalism is clearly defined by several
other scholars including Bruce Mutsvairo (2015) who notes, several factors,
including decreasing public trust in news and tumbling advertising revenues,
have contributed to the popularity and eventual tolerability of citizen
journalism, then goes on to say that, citizen journalism evidently provides
a powerful opposing narrative to traditional journalism (p. 4). From a
scholarly perspective it appears as though many professionals view citizen
journalism as an added benefit to traditional media.

Citizen journalism has the ability to stand alone or correspond with


existing entities, which makes the information widely versatile. Greater
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 9
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collaboration between traditional and non-traditional styles of journalism
may benefit both categories as citizen journalism advances. Barnes makes it
a point to note that the main driving force in citizen journalism is the ability
to report information while the event is taking place. One may see the
significance of collaborating, especially in global issues. Collaboration
between traditional and non will not only benefit mainstream media but also
the citizens who are reporting because it enables them to present on pre-set
platforms like television, web, or print sources. Jeff Howe, writer for Wired,
used the term crowdsourcing to discuss the actions of traditional media
using the public to contribute content (Bentley, 2011, p. 116). To better
improve the news system, further collaboration between established news
sources and citizens must be implemented.

Conclusion

It is clear that citizen journalism does play a major role in information


dissemination. Though only present in its modern style for the past two
decades, citizen journalism has progressed into a leading style of news
reporting. Literature suggests that citizen journalism is indeed a much
needed part of global journalism. History and research have shown that
people are progressively drawn towards the firsthand accounts provided by
citizen journalists. Though traditional journalism will always have its place in
the world of information, citizen journalists are pushing the envelope of
modern media.
CITIZEN JOURNALISM AND ITS ROLE IN NEWS REPORTING: A LITERARY 10
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