Citizen journalism

Howdy, everyone! I hope you had a great spring break.

This week we’re going to cover two related but different issues: citizen journalism and crowdsourcing. Both are “problematic” terms, in that people have various reasons for finding problems with those phrases (for example). But both also get at a similar concept, which is this: As the tools of media production have became near-ubiquitous (in western society) and the costs of using those tools to create, remix, and share have fallen to the floor, there are vast new opportunities for the formerly atomized audience to participate on their terms, connect and coordinate horizontally with each other, and do so in a way that creates value through collective intelligence and contributions.

On Tuesday we take up citizen journalism. Before class, please read my chapter from the Future of News book. It’s not the most comprehensive overview of the state of affairs, but it should give you a better background for understanding how citizen journalism has emerged (under what conditions, with what motivations, using what methods, etc.), and where it might be headed in the years to come. There’s little doubt that we’re going to see more of this phenomenon in the future—indeed, probably much, much more than we expect; the “rebooted system of news” clearly is going to be one of greater pro-am collaboration. But we’re left to ponder what the character of this increased contribution will be. What is citizen journalism now, and what will it become—and why should that matter for how you think about your own role in news?

Keep that question in mind as you read for Tuesday, and please post your comments below ahead of class. Thanks.

16 Responses to “Citizen journalism”

  1. 1 Sean Beherec March 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Citizen journalism isn’t a new concept, despite how some people in the industry act. It’s been around since common people could afford to buy a printing press and the main difference is that the internet has allowed us to cut the distribution costs completely.
    Online citizen journalism, or network journalism, has become a force to be reckoned with in the journalism industry, politics and anywhere else that the written word has had an impact. There’s obviously no way of quashing it by the traditional news outlets, who have tried to chorale bloggers and on-scene “citizen journalists” for their own benefit. I think the ability to harness all of the available information and put it into digestable sizes is important, but the way news outlets are currently doing it already seems outdated and unwise (anyone watching CNN broadcast a Twitter trending topic knows what this is like). The “mullet strategy” Peretti mentions is probably one of the better ways of handling user-generated content, but it won’t be applicable for every news organization.
    As user-generated content evolves and the presentation of its information develops into something more profitable and long-lasting, the question of ethics will also have to be evaluated. Journalists have struggled with the concept of non-involvement for years, but the concept of remaining free from all ties in participatory journalism is essentially impossible. The idea of objective reporting in the evolving industry and especially Web 3.0 will definitely have to be evaluated, and it may take more people like Mayhill Fowler.

  2. 2 Holly MacRossin March 21, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    For now, I see citizen journalism as a way for just about anyone to produce content and share it with whoever wants to listen, read or watch it. It’s the audience’s turn to “report” on what they find important or what they think the press may have missed. It does get confusing though, as the reading suggests, about where to draw the line between, say, reporter, citizen, supporter etc.

    As for the future of citizen journalism, I think it may become much stronger and possibly more important than it is today (or at least viewed more importantly). It may become more popular than it already is when even more people have access to Web 2.0 and what it has to offer. I think this quote from the reading makes a very good point though. “Theatergoers do not storm the stage to put on their own production; they still consume with pleasure”(62). This, to me, means that even though citizen journalism is pretty popular now and has lots of potential to become a top source of information, there will always be a want for “real professionals.” People want the best of both worlds.

    Being someone about to jump into professional journalism in one way or another, I think citizen journalism is something that I may want to be active with. Perhaps contribute to something small to see the differing ways of reporting. Or maybe just start taking a closer look at what citizen journalists are producing.

  3. 3 Donnie Hogan March 22, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Whatever term you decide to use, I like Jarvis’ term “network journalism”, the fact is our world has turned into a 24/7 press conference.

    If you’re a politician, celebrity or any other type of public figure outside the walls of your own home, your actions are at risk of being recorded and published. In the past, public figures could quickly recognize paparazzi or other media figures. Now, every “citizen” with a cell phone is not only capable of capturing photos, sound, and video, but also has the power and freedom to broadcast that information world-wide in a matter of seconds.

    Stories like Mayhill Fowler’s, discussed by Seth in Chapt. 5, are now so common and feasible that I fear the public will not see the true colors of public figures in the future.

    When those figures give press conferences, they are always putting on their best show because they know the camera is on them. As time goes on, I believe those figures will become more and more aware that every time they step foot outside, they are making a public appearance in a virtual press conference the digitization of our media technologies has created.

    Public figures have and will continue to not trust the public just as they did the traditional media. If those figures are constantly putting on their best show, their perception in the public’s eye won’t be based on their character or morals, but rather on their ability to not screw up while magnifying the good and hiding the bad.

  4. 4 Victoria Garcia March 22, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    I view “citizen journalism” as an evolution that has accompanied the technological advances in our society. Citizen journalism/network journalism is a contributor to “Big Media” and will continue to be an add on, with what seems like an ever-expanding influence.

    I also think that while this type of journalism (i.e. blogs) does depend heavily on professional reporting, a lot of professional reporting relies heavily on citizen work as well. It is difficult to find a news story that doesn’t have a link to an outside blog, website, video, or photo story. Citizen journalism can perhaps help achieve what “Big Media” cannot do alone, and vice versa. Your words capture it best–“It (participatory news) will support, rather than supplant, the future of professional journalism, and could make it stronger yet as journalists teach and train and citizens engage and inform–working together to build trust, transparency, and depth of knowledge about communities and people in them.” (74)

    As participatory journalism evolves in product style, it also changes in terms of production and the guidelines behind it. Mayhill Fowler’s story is an interesting one that poses quite a few ethical questions. I don’t feel comfortable setting out ethics in a “Ten Commandments” way and I enjoyed that you left the discussion on that subject open. It really summed up the idea that this type of journalism is still changing, not only in the final outcome, but also in the way it is made.

  5. 5 Ryan Murphy March 22, 2010 at 9:40 pm

    I believe the growth of *insert buzz word here* journalism (be it citizen, participatory, networked, amateur, crowd-sourced) comes from the advantage of immediacy provided by an outlet such as the Internet, and as more and more people gain access to it (to the point of ubiquity), this outflow of content is only going to increase.

    Where “citizen” journalism has an issue is with credibility, but this has little to do with how truthful they actually are. I believe any claim that says “professional journalist = good; citizen journalist = questionable at best” sounds like it is based in an “old media” mentality, and I think that misses the greater effect these new journalists have. What citizen journalism has done for the reporting community is similar to what the printing press did to scribes (full disclosure, I am borrowing that analogy from a Clay Shirky presentation I saw last week). Outside of making scribes essentially obsolete, the printing press redefined what was fast in the world of content production, and suddenly made scribes look a lot less appealing if you had something you wanted produced quickly.

    Unedited sections for publications such as the Huffington Post and CNN’s iReport are not just ways of ensuring the community stays involved; it is a way to make sure that these establishments do not get left behind in up to the second coverage. They can selectively upgrade a piece of amateur coverage to prime time status, make a few edits here and there, and suddenly, they have the first information from the scene. Citizen journalism has made traditional journalism, for better or worse, too slow to meet the needs of the consumer. There is no such thing as “new” news anymore. There is only the bitingly current, and the cause of “breaking” the news has been passed on to the Twitterers and Facebook status updaters of the world.

    As Seth mentioned in the post, the phenomenon of citizen journalism is going to explode a lot quicker than I think anyone is prepared for, but I think it will be the people who can successfully aggregate and THEN propagate this knowledge to the masses that will find the most success.

  6. 6 Jordyn Davenport March 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    I think citizen journalism arose because we were experiencing a void in the traditional news industry. People felt disconnected from the news and the people who made it and they weren’t sure if they could rely on these people who were so very separate from them to give them the information they needed. As Seth phrased it, “Citizen journalism, then, is as much a product of the technology as it is of our times-our emphasis on the individual empowerment and public transparency.”

    I think citizen journalism for this purpose will continue, at least for the near future, as people continue to lose trust in institutions in general. The government, corporations, the banks, the newspapers, they all seem a bit corrupt right now. So who are we supposed to trust? Joe the plumber, that’s who. Or at least some Americans seem to think so anyway. And this isn’t entirely a bad thing, Joe the Plumber can tell you a thing or two you might not know, but is he really more trustworthy than the big media corporations?

    If the media corporations are in fact more trustworthy and deserve the more prominent place in the future of news they will have to prove it. The citizen journalists have a bit of an advantage in that if they fail or lose interest they can just go back to their day jobs. Journalists, on the other hand, cannot. But what they can do, is experiment with implementing citizen journalism into their organizations, how they’re supposed to do that….well ask me about that one in a couple of years.

  7. 7 Will Anderson March 22, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I took an interest in Jeff Jarvis’ explanation of “network journalism,” so let me touch on that real quick before moving on to the Future of News reading. Jarvis prefers the term “network journalism” to “citizen journalism” because of the obvious confusion the latter creates– are those two descriptors usually exclusive?, isn’t all journalism done by “citizens” of somewhere or another?, etc.

    BUT “citizen journalism” also reminds me of the term “citizen soldier,” which is applied to soldiers of the armed forces in countries like the United States where service is voluntary instead of compulsory (selectively forgetting the draft for a moment). The idea is markedly similar to citizen journalism and Jarvis’ explanation: there is a dedicated core of professionals who constantly provide a service (be it soldiers or journalists), but in a time of crisis, those ranks swell because previously uninvolved/untrained bystanders are now thrust into the position of a professional because of circumstances beyond their control (see: Jarvis’ example of the marketing blogger in Thailand during the Asian Tsunami of 2007). Situation, instead of background, thus defines these bystanders as journalists because of how they respond. Training/affiliation/pedigree are relative non-issues when discussing citizen journalism in these contexts.

    Sorry about that tangent. Now, Prof. Lewis’ chapter in The Future of News was a pretty interesting read as well. I had skimmed it back when we were first assigned readings from TFoN, but had to go back and re-read, and the main point I got was this:citizen journalism is coming, and it can’t be stopped. The cat is out of the bag for good because, as Seth explains, citizen journalism is an extension of human behavior with a rich history rooted in early America’s anonymous Federalist Papers. I found Gans’ prophetic quotes extremely interesting, given their timestamp, especially when combined with the Citizen component of network journalism (“it’s in our DNA to contribute.”).

    Crowdsourcing is another innovative idea. As we discussed earlier in the class (feed://, convergence culture shows that “the audience knows more collectively than the reporter alone.” This game-changer provides much more context for the news, which perfectly fits the horizontal, link-heavy ethos of new media platforms. Combined with citizen journalism, the two, albeit extremely young and still under construction, will revolutionize the way journalism is conducted and consumed.

  8. 8 Katie Myung March 22, 2010 at 11:19 pm

    Citizen journalism, according to the seminal 2003 report We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information is the practice of members of the public, “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.”

    The main advantage of being online is that it is easy for people to access and participate in the media. Traditional newspapers are limited by time and space. Print and televised media put out articles and news stories daily. News content is produced solely by professional reporters and editors. Internet media is free of these two barriers. In some ways, the internet is limited in time and space, but in other ways it is not. That’s why a citizen reporter can participate in the news reporting.

    Citizen journalism right means is to craft a crew of correspondents who are typically excluded from or misrepresented by local television news. These people would include low-income women, minorities, and youth. – That is, it encompasses the very demographic and lifestyle groups who have little access to the media and whom advertisers usually exclude in their target marketing.

    It will also challenge the traditional media logic of, say, who is a reporter, what is news, what is the nest news style, and what is newsworthy. The declining power of traditional newspapers will be allowed this challenging.

  9. 9 Yolande Yip March 23, 2010 at 1:33 am

    I think by now most of us can agree that citizen/networked/participatory/etc. journalism is not here to replace professional/legacy journalism. They are different beasts, and their best chance of survival is to form a symbiotic relationship.

    I agree with Ryan that one of the most important functions of citizen journalism is the immediacy. It makes sense that a breaking event can be covered–even if only in 140 characters–by an on-the-scene person with a smartphone faster than it would take for a professional journalist to hear about it, go to the scene, then write a story on it.

    Another necessary role of citizen journalism (and a major contributor to its success) is its engagement of public involvement, interest, and affairs. This is all well and good. Involving more people in content generation is, in my opinion, positive. However, if we look at how people contribute content on the internet–I’m thinking about the Power-Law Distribution Shirky talks about–then a few users contribute a high amount of content while others contribute next to nothing.

    Also, (and I may be wrong), but I get the impression that people who do contribute to the participatory pages of the Huffington Post and iReport are, generally speaking, similar. They are better educated, have enough free time to contribute, and have the money for a computer and access to the internet. They are the people who already contribute letters to the editor of a large news corporation In short, these people are not blue collar workers. They are not of the lower class.

    Maybe it’s not feasible, but I think until there is greater involvement from this segment of the population, a segment around which the news often revolves, citizen journalism–even with its most likely promising future of growth–can only be of so much value.

  10. 10 dluippold March 23, 2010 at 2:10 am

    What is citizen journalism now,
    Lewis defines citizen journalism as “the average person creating and distributing news via a global medium.” I agree with that theoretical definition, but I argue the average citizen journalist today is hardly the average citizen. A study released a few weeks ago showed it takes until the $50,000 income bracket before a majority of citizens have access to broadband. Even more interesting is that Asians and whites are the only groups with over 50% broadband access.

    This accessibility issue clearly presents a problem when it comes to what citizen journalism covers. It reminds me of, I think the Shirky book, he talks about newsrooms being mostly white and male until the late 60’s. (there isn’t much of a gender gap regard broadband, .9 more men have access)

    I think this is why so much online political news focuses much more on process rather than policy, because much of the online audience is in a socioeconomic place where policy doesn’t impact them as much, and the process is more entertaining at a visceral level (obviously i’m making vast generalizations).

    All I’m saying is to be careful saying citizen journalism is comprised of average people, because plenty of average people don’t have access to the resources, both technical and intellectual, to produce content.

    This is why citizen journalism is exciting though, because the whole point is it is getting easier and easier and easier for people to make the news so this problem will dissipate.

    As far as my role in journalism, and citizen journalism, I think there are short and long-term implications.

    The short term is that it is important to cover people and issues that normal citizen journalists make. For hyperlocal reporting to be successful people from every locale need to take part. Until that happens it is important to step out of the local occasionally, maybe an 80/20 type rule for citizen journalism, 80% is local; where you are, what you know, and 20% is the opposite.

    As far as the long term meaning, I essentially see it that every journalist will need to eat a big piece of humble pie. If citizen journalism tells us anything, its that there will always be somebody there first, with a more interesting insight, better facts, cooler technology etc. It reminds me of the chorus in a Ben Folds song “smile, like you’ve got nothing to lose, no matter what you might do, there’s always someone out there cooler than you.”

    Collaboration and conversation will be the name of the game, journalism used to be one of the most competitive professions around because it was so easy to quantify who broke the story first or who had the best sources, but now it is who reads the story first and shares it and spreads it around.

    It’ll be fun.

    “It’s crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation of all means of production. To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies.”-Friedrich Engels

  11. 11 Hannah March 23, 2010 at 3:13 am

    Citizen journalism and crowdsourcing are such loaded terms now. I think it’s interesting how different perspectives view those two terms. To a journalist, citizen journalism might seem more negative (they’re crowding out our space), whereas this same journalist might see crowdsourcing in a positive light (I can use the “crowd” to get information). To a civilian, though, citizen journalism might have a more positive connotation (As a citizen, I can have a real impact on society), and crowdsourcing might seem more negative (I’m being used).

    Either way, they both mean that we’re in an age where technology is everywhere, “news” is everywhere (no matter how professionally presented) and WE are everywhere. The networks of today are necessary, and because our society is depersonalizing us, we feel the need to get super-connected through other outlets. When we can share what we know with others (whether there is an actual person on the other end of the Internet connection or not), we feel like we’re really contributing something to society. When we read things that others have shared (whether they shared them with us or the impersonal general public), we feel like we’re involved in that society.

    Either way, though, this phenomenon should be embraced rather than feared, and the multiple parties need to learn how to work together to reach different crowds rather than trying to completely coexist (when they serve different purposes) or figure out how to cut each other out of the picture completely.

  12. 12 Kurt Mitschke March 23, 2010 at 6:36 am

    One line that really had me thinking the whole time while reading this chapter was this:

    “Big Media and We Media can co-exist (and perhaps even thrive together) because they have different goals and meet different needs” (62).

    For me, the focus was on the different goals and different needs, which Seth did an excellent job explaining as I continued to read. On page 74, he talks about how participatory journalism is not THE future of professional reporting, nor the destruction of it, but rather something that will support the future of journalism and keep journalists informed. This kind of summarizes what we have been learning, and we have seen plenty of examples that show how this pro-am model works. This is the future of journalism, and we are living it right now.

    As to what citizen journalism will become, or has the potential to become, I think that is dependent on the new technology that comes along in the future. However, the main issue will always be editing and separating citizen journalism from legacy journalism. There is no one way to do journalism, and because of that there is no one set of ethics. It is important to remember the different goals and intentions of both platforms.

    Like Seth said in the last paragraph of the chapter, “It serves to remind us that the ethics of participatory news are a work in progress, like the form of journalism itself.” It is indeed a work in progress, but one that will—and already does—play an integral role in reporting the news.

  13. 13 Amber Genuske March 23, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Citizen journalism is a term that I, and many other journalists and publications, are used to by now. One of the major shifts is that the term is becoming more familiar and less feared than in the past.

    I like how Jeff Jarvis has changed the term into “networked journalism” now. This makes more sense in the grand scheme of things with the consumer role changing into the producer.

    There is a difference however between how citizen journalism affects democracy when it comes to a comment or a site like and when the citizen takes reporting entirely into their own hands. The latter is what I think publications shun because how are they better fit to report the news than trained journalists?

    This idea of Web 3.0 and crowdsourcing is interesting to me. I really enjoy Wikipedia, what they compare it to, but am curious to how exactly it will work in the realm of journalism.

  14. 14 emilywatkins March 23, 2010 at 11:13 am

    I’ve always thought of citizen journalism as a straightforward concept. However, I think it has become a catch-all term for anything involving user-generated news and information. Like Seth mentions in Chapter 5, the term often gets lost in translation and is easily ill-defined and ill-deployed.

    With that said, it’s obvious that “citizen journalism” is here to stay. It’s continuously challenging the traditional role of the reporter and shaping the news process to fit the needs of users, which are access and immediacy, in my opinion.

    The most important function of citizen journalism is illustrated in Seth’s comments about Mayhill Fowler. Citizen journalism means that “virtually no candidate appearance or public utterance goes unrecorded, amplifying the impact and potential of the ‘gotcha’ snippet as well as the full length speech.” This is significant because as the platforms for users continue to expand, more “citizens” can become journalists, which highlights the fact that we need to recognize news as a process as opposed to news as a product.

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