Imagine walking down the street of your own city and seeing something crazy happen, a car crash, a protest, or even an escaped zoo animal cruising down the sidewalk. You have to share this with the world! You pull out your phone and take a video. Later, you post it online for millions to see. You’ve just become a citizen journalist! Citizen journalism is when news stories are reported, recorded, or written and published by a non-professional. Many journalists don’t like this term because they do not believe journalism can just be reported by anyone but is a professional discipline with certain standards. However, with so much access to public media and social networks it’s becoming easier and more popular to be a citizen journalist. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, there is an entire newspaper in South Korea that operates off of over 2,000 citizens sending in their own citizen journalism pieces.
Citizen journalism can be a great tool and an asset to the world of sending and receiving information. By definition, anyone can be a citizen journalist, there is no special training or equipment required. This gives everyone an opportunity to give voice to news or topics of their choice. Additionally, people can report about things that are smaller scale or more specialized. Citizen journalism allows citizen reporters to get very close to topics in their local community or allows them to report to a smaller niche audience instead of news that is geared for a wider audience. Another strong advantage of citizen journalism is that it can take viewers into the action that reporters may not always get to experience. If an ordinary person is making a broadcast there aren’t as many rules, expectations, or regulations as to what they can do or where they can go. This allows citizen reporters to be fully immersed in the action of a story if they choose. For example, if there is a march or protest, a citizen journalist could fully partake in the action while filming and talking to other participants as he or she goes.
Since there are no boundaries or rules in place when it comes to citizen journalism, the report can get out of control, violate laws, or be untruthful. Citizen journalists don’t have television stations or new sites to sensor their content. There could be sensitive or inappropriate material in any report. Additionally, the journalist can knowingly or unknowingly break privacy laws or copyright laws. Arguably, the biggest concern is that it’s likely that no one fact checks the reports. People can publish anything they wish and say it is reliable news. There is also a good chance that the journalist may claim to be reporting facts but is actually reporting with bias or an agenda on a topic. An example of this would be if a citizen journalist is reporting on a crime in his or her town. The journalist may have a relationship to victims and strongly skew the facts to point fingers at a particular suspect if the reporter thinks the suspect committed the crime, even if he or she didn’t.
Citizen journalism is tricky because many of the qualities that make it such a helpful tool also make it risky. Freedom of journalism is a great thing, but it can go poorly very quickly. The same goes for journalists who are unaffiliated with certain networks, on one hand they could be seen as an objective source, but on the other you may never know if what they say is bias. The key is balance. Citizen journalism offers a unique perspective on many topics. However, while watching, viewers must realize that it is a citizen reporting and not a professional, therefore not every bit of information may be true or objective. When creating citizen journalism, it is important to keep audience in mind and ensure the story is factual and fair.