Citizen journalism…a favour or fraud?

October 13, 2008 at 4:43 pm (new age journalism) ()

I’d never really given citizen journalism much thought before. I think I had always put it down to something that ‘other people’ bothered with, and I had always wanted to be a ‘real’ journalist. But looking at the increasing trend and importance of members of the public in both the reporting of news and providing analysis and opinions on ranging issues, I realised that people who take part just want to the chance to share their thoughts, images and anything else with other people. And why shouldn’t they? In a society with free speech they have every right to do this. Also, who am I have such snobbery? I realised that journalists and citizen journalists have the same goal; they want to tell people what’s going on and reach out to as many people as possible with their information.

 

 By getting people to send in photos of events as it’s happening, the news gets to the public quicker than any reporter who would have to leave the news desk and travel to the scene. The use of people’s comments and their versions of events from the scene not only grants stories a personal angle but gives the public a different account of the event; a description of the hard-hitting reality of being there while it was going on, and a sense of proximity. A reporter could not do this from a news desk or by turning up after the incident had happened. All they could give their viewers/readers is an account of what happened afterwards, and perhaps a quote from somebody that they had managed to grab passing by. By using real accounts of someone’s experience more depth and reality can be given.

 

Does this make journalists lazy? The fact that they can sit at their desks and use someone else’s photos, someone else’s account of an event and someone else’s opinions? In some cases, perhaps. However, I know that after years of hard work, I don’t want to be someone who merely sits at a desk all day ripping off someone else’s work. That’s not what good journalism is about.

 

Good journalism is about using tools that are within reach, but using them to add to your own work, to make it better, to give it a sense of real life. You want the account of Joe Bloggs if it makes your story personal, but he has to be referenced and it has to be done fairly. It is far too easy to be patronising to citizen journalists because they don’t sit in a newsroom with journalistic training.

 

Of course there are drawbacks that need to be considered. People could be out to hoax, such as the picture of the deer in the woods (http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_montana_fire.htm). But that just means checks need to be made.  The use of citizen journalism should not be curbed because there are risks involved. The risks just need to be safeguarded.

 

If we take the example of 7/7, citizen journalism played a massive role in the reporting of the event. Pictures from inside the trains were being sent to the media within minutes of the terrorists striking. Photographs, which no journalist would have been able to get, were being put out on national news straight away. As soon as anyone made it out of the stations, they were asked to give a blow-by-blow account of what had happened, what they heard, saw and how they were feeling. In situations such as these, where no one knows what has happening and everything is in a state of confusion the main source of news is those who were there and were involved.  Examples of all these can be seen on the BBC news website at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/uk/2005/london_explosions/default.stm.

 

The media can’t have their cake and eat it. If they are going to use citizens for stories such as these, they need to let them have a platform for all events. Yes, we need to be wary, but in the long run, it looks to be the way forward for valuable and informative journalism.

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