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The continued rise of citizen journalism: online & in social media

Ever since Abraham Zapruder captured John F. Kennedy’s assassination with his home movie camera on Nov. 22, 1963, the influence of citizen journalism on traditional media has only grown. With today’s technology and resources, almost anybody can capture news and rapidly distribute it around the world. This spur in citizen journalism provides an independent and diverse variety of information under the same guise that drives a democracy, with the role of journalists as “society’s watchdogs.”

While some experts see citizen journalism as a sidekick to traditional media, filling in the gaps, “we see it as very complementary — filling a void for other points of view, for events not covered and fostering engagement largely lacking in conventional media,” said Aki Hashmi, general manager of AllVoices. He is part of a new stream of nonprofits that are creating a bigger platform for citizen journalists to be heard by training, funding, supplying resources, and providing an audience for today’s citizen journalist.

Many traditional news outlets are embracing citizen journalism as a complement to their newscasts. In August 2006, CNN launched iReport, a citizen journalism initiative that allows regular citizens to contribute to stories while on the scene. These stories are not edited, screened or otherwise tampered with before they are posted. ABC, Fox News and NBC soon followed suit, launching i-Caught, uReport and FirstPerson, respectively, to aggregate citizen reports of their own.

This all comes at a time when the credibility of traditional media is fading, with the Pew Research Center finding a significant drop since turn of the millennium. Among major television news organizations, their polling has found drops in viewer believability at several top networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News and NBC News. The poll did find local television news growing in believability, with 29 percent reporting they believe “all or most” of what local news says, up 1 percent from 2008 and up 6 percent from 2006.

With media outlets downsizing and social media use mounting, individual journalists are also using social media sites such as YouTube, Four Square, Twitter and Facebook to find leads and sources, follow trends, crowdsource, share stories, and create communities. One of these developments is YouTube Direct, which allows media organizations to request, review and rebroadcast clips directly from users. Since its launch in 2009, major outlets including NPR, The Washington Post and ABC News have begun using it to integrate citizen coverage in their reports, decentralizing the news business and generating quality coverage.

“There is a space for activists and civil society’s role, but there will always need to be editorial boards and the ethics and professionalism that come with traditional journalism,” international media consultant Mike Clarke told inVocus. Though traditional journalism and media may not be replaced by citizen journalists, it needs to find a way to incorporate citizen journalism in a responsible manner. The field of citizen journalism is growing rapidly and its role in today’s media landscape is changing as fast as the technology that’s spurring it on.

–Mebaa Braha



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