Citizens have always played a role in journalism, whether by writing letters to the editor, suggesting potential story ideas, or boycotting papers when they feel a lack of impartiality or local coverage. However, with the introduction of new media such as personal websites and technologies such as the camera phone, citizens now can participate in journalism more actively than ever before. An average citizen may act as a watchdog service for media bias by managing a personal fact-checking website. Alternately, he or she may take footage of a newsworthy event on his or her Flip phone that may make it onto the evening news. This section will discuss how this reciprocal relationship between news service and consumer has changed the way news is created, and by whom.
What is Citizen Journalism?
According to J.D. Lasica’s article “What is Participatory Journalism?” citizen, or participatory, journalism falls into any one of six broad categories:
- General audience participation in existing mainstream news outlets:
- This is one of the oldest and most popular forms of citizen journalism, since it incorporates the existing structure of mainstream media. Examples of this type of journalism include viewer-submitted videos, pictures, poll participation and letters to the editor, as well as new
- Independent news and information websites:
- These sites are a more recent creation, and rely on a staff of primarily volunteer writers (though they may also have editor-created content) to produce original news content on the web. These sites may take a holistic approach to news, covering it much as a major network would. Alternately, there are several independent news sites which focus on a niche news market, such as politics, consumer news and hyperlocal coverage.
- Fully-fledged participatory news sites:
- These are essentially the same as the independent news sites listed above, but with one key difference: nearly all of their content is written by citizens who may or may not have training. A good example of this is South Korea’s highly influential alternative news source, Ohmynews.com, which will be elaborated on in detail further on in this article. (There is also an English version of the site, which primarily publishes news and commentary related to citizen journalism).
- Collaborative and contributory media sites:
- These sites combine aspects of blogs and discussion forums by allowing users to either post complete, self-published articles – in the vein of a blog – or just link and discuss current news stories. A good example of a site like this is Slashdot.org, which acts as a forum for users to post links and brief summaries about news events they found interesting.
- Email lists or discussion boards:
- These somewhat primitive forms of internet sharing can have a news focus, although that is not necessarily their main function. Email lists, also known by their original title of “listserv”, are email chains on particular topics that users can sign up for to receive and post content to, and though these have mostly fallen by the wayside several good examples can be seen at Yahoo Groups. Discussion boards are similar in nature, but are located on a website rather than an email server.
- Personal radio or video broadcasting sites:
- These are individually owned streaming radio and video sites that essentially can act as personal television or radio stations. Although they are not necessarily designed for news, there are several that are good examples of it, such as Daytona Beach’s online television station.
Each of these major types of new media may be used to further the dissemination of news, either by acting as a user interface for news sharing or one for personal creation.
A Visual Introduction to Citizen Journalism
The concept of citizen journalism is in some ways better seen than described. Thus, here are links to a few noteworthy examples of citizen journalism over the last few years.
A scene from the streets of the Iranian Revolution, recorded by a protester and later used by the Associated Press:
This video is an excellent example of riot and disaster coverage, one of the areas of news coverage that has been heavily influenced by citizen contribution.
Another example of disaster coverage. This video shows the raw, gritty humanity that is one of the great strengths of citizen journalism. Accounts such as these during Hurricane Katrina were popular for a time on mainstream media outlets, as they were the best representation of what it was actually like surviving the storm.
The Huffington Post’s list of the best examples of citizen journalism of 2009:
Noteworthy Examples of Citizen Journalism
Ohmynews.com is one of the most widely touted success stories of the participatory journalism. Originally created in 2000 by On Yeon Ho to serve as an alternative to South Korea’s highly conservative media sphere, Ohmynews is an online newspaper website that is made up of almost entirely user-generated content, with only 20% being written by the site’s staff. The site’s influence has skyrocketed since its creation, and in 2002 it was widely recognized as having played an instrumental part in the election of Democratic candidate Roo Moo-Hyun to the presidency. Moo-Hyun, who faced underrepresentation and lack of support from existing establishment media sources, found a champion in Ohmynews, where more extensive coverage by the site’s contributors helped him to narrowly edge past Lee Hoi-Chang of the Grand National Party and win the popular vote. As a sign of respect, the first interview Moo-Hyun granted as president was an exclusive to Ohmynews. The site later launched an English version, which primarily features articles on citizen journalism itself. The site’s motto remains to this day, “Every Citizen is a Reporter.”
The British Broadcasting Corporation
‘… when major events occur, the public can offer us as much new information as we are able to broadcast to them. From now on, news coverage is a partnership.’ – Richard Sambrook, former BBC news executive
Although the BBC is a major international news outlet, it has shown a significant interest in integrating citizen involvement in many of its programs. Richard Sambrook, a 30-year veteran of the organization, writes in his article “Citizen Journalism and the BBC” that audience participation, far from being at odds with the role of the BBC, is integral to the majority of news content currently being produced. Sambrook uses the example of the July 7, 2005 terrorist subway bombings in London, saying that almost immediately after the bombings, citizens began to voluntarily send in their own pictures, updates, and information to the station in order to provide their point of view during the confusion. Sambrook says that “[w]ithin six hours we received more than 1,000 photographs, 20 pieces of amateur video, 4,000 text messages, and 20,000 e-mails. People were participating in our coverage in a way we had never seen before. By the next day, our main evening TV newscast began with a package edited entirely from video sent in by viewers.” This example sparked the company’s interest in integrating citizen journalism and audience participation into their regular programming, an interest that has since grown into a formalized policy of inclusion and has in part cemented the BBC’s network standings as not only a global, but a local station.