Citizen reporting is a relatively new feature in the sphere of journalism, but already its effects are profound and widespread. It represents the future of journalism, away from traditional forms, towards radical new forms that appear to be by the people, for the people. While some argue that citizen journalism is an antidote to the widening gaps in society, where traditional news media is in decline and reporting carries undertones of political bias, it is evident that the societies that would benefit most from this style of reporting are facing repressive regimes working to suppress freedom of press. The lecture presented by Marcus O’Donnell (2013) painted a very interesting picture about the advantages and disadvantages presented by the phenomenon of citizen reporting. He questioned whether citizen journalism diminished the quality of reporting, or whether it reinstated our trust in journalism due to the open-forum nature of participatory journalism. I’m going to try and unpack this a little bit in order to come to grips with the future of journalism.
“News travels fast”
It’s an old adage, but has so much more literal meaning in today’s fast-paced, news-hungry society than it ever did when it was coined. But the adage also highlights the challenges in accuracy of reporting by citizen journalists. Gaps in information, lack of referencing of sources and a general lack of context, all because of stringent time constraints, often leads to narrow reporting – quantity over quality. Further, the availability of online reporting methods to the ‘average joe’ means that although we’re closer to establishing a free press, and everyone’s voice can therefore be heard, maybe we shouldn’t be hearing every voice that’s out there? Jeremy Porter (2009) stated ‘the only real problem with citizen journalism is that it gets more difficult for all of us to decide what to believe.’
“We are the eyes and ears of the news”
Professional reporters cannot be everywhere and cannot cover every event taking place, especially those that are unplanned. Citizen journalists can alert the media to breaking news, and provide information and visual documentation of events that can help to inform news stories. Some newspapers and news sites, especially smaller ones who may have limited staff, rely on citizen journalists to contribute comments and blog posts about their stories in order to broaden the news they cover and make the stories more interactive, and more accessible. In fact, many believe that citizen journalists present a fresh and more exciting angle on a story, making the news more engaging. We’re given the information we want in small, digestible pieces and this allows us to remain up-to-date with breaking news stories and global trends.
Sure, professional journalists put themselves in harm’s way every day to cover news around the globe; they have been trained to handle potentially dangerous situations and are equipped with the resources and staff to protect themselves as best they can. However, there is certainly much to be gained from having everyday people in the midst of breaking news stories, documenting them as they play out and giving an unmediated view of the world around us. I am all for citizen journalism, but there is a line to be drawn before too much unmediated content starts warping our perceptions of what is relevant news.
- O’Donnell, M 2013, The Future of Journalism, lecture, BCM310, Emerging Issues in Media and Communication, University of Wollongong, delivered 8 April