Monday, November 1, 2010

What is citizen journalism?

When I began this assignment, I tried to define what it meant to be a citizen journalist vs. a "real" journalist. Am I a journalist? I am in the J-School and write for the Daily Cardinal. Or do you need a physical degree in Journalism to be a "journalist?" Would my retired grandma be considered a journalist if she contributed to sites such as iReport, Helium, or OhMyNews? I think there is a blurred line to the definition of a journalist and the topic is definitely up for debate.

Jurgen Habermas defined the public sphere as a place where information is exchanged. An important aspect of the public sphere is allowing everyone to speak and voice their opinions through interactions and dialogue. I think that citizen journalism is the essence of Habermas' notion of the public sphere. The ability to post freely online where others can voice their opinions is a great advancement in our society.

Due to the fact that individuals can post their opinions and insight anonymously on blogs decreases the problem of group think because without including one’s name on their opinion, they can freely express their views. To the contrary, along with public opinion, blogs and other news sites can often be dominated by the elites or opinion leaders, overriding the opinions of some.

When deciding on what I could contribute to a news site, I thought in the spirit of Halloween, I would write a feature-type news story on Freakfest. Something that I thought would be interesting to those not familiar with the annual event. I wrote my story Sunday night and posted it on iReport. More specifically, I posted my article on CNN iReport University. This is a new initiative “offering top journalism students from across the world the opportunity to develop and hone their editorial skills, with support from CNN.” While it was not any different than posting my article to the regular section of iReport, I felt because my story was related to the UW-Madison campus, it would fit best here.

iReport is part of CNN, a place where you can "help shape what CNN covers and how." CNN posts a disclaimer saying that the stories contributed are not fact checked, edited or screened before they are posted. An element of citizen journalism?
An important thing to consider when thinking about citizen journalism is what incentive do individuals have to take their time and post an article that may never be read? As a journalism student, I found satisfaction in posting my article to iReport, but would the average citizen? Something unique I found at iReport is that CNN producers will read the most "compelling, important and urgent" iReports and once approved by producers will make them part of CNN's news coverage.

I did not find many challenges when posting my article to iReport. It was very simple to create an account and post my article. iReport posted my story almost instantaneously. I think this is a great opportunity for anyone with an opinion, anyone interested in developing their writing skills and also an opportunity to increase civic engagement. Another opportunity I found on iReport is the ability to “share” articles via Facebook, Twitter, Digg etc. While many sites do this for professional journalism, I think this is a great way to circulate citizen journalism. Individuals also have the ability to comment on articles and share their insights and opinions.

Some questions that I pose:

Do you think citizen journalism is good for society?

Can the general public decipher the difference between real and citizen journalism (regardless of disclaimer)?

Does citizen journalism delegitimize professional journalism?

What audience is going to these news sites?

Are sites such as iReport and Helium creating an echo chamber?


  1. Here is a link to my article (it wouldn't let me include it in my original post):

  2. I think iReport is a really great way for people to participate in citizen journalism. However, I think it is best as a supplementary to regular reporting. The benefit I've found from iReport is its ability to get information to people from actual witnesses. For instance, iReport was able to get photos from people near the WTC on 9/11 and got views from the VA Tech shootings.

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  4. I learned a lot about citizen journalism from J202, and there are many pros and cons to it. But I found a good compromise between citizen journalists (like the iReport) and professional journalists (like at the NYTimes) is ProPublica... it reminds me of MadisonCommons in the sense that there are professional journalists that train citizens to write. This way some of the ethics of professional journalism is still somewhat upheld, and yet the spontaneity of citizen journalism still remains.

    In my opinion, citizen journalism does add value to society by giving some control/power to citizens, serving as a check on journalists, getting closer/ more accurate to the story, etc,; however, I still think professional journalists are important...and not so I feel like all this class time and money aren't a waste, but the fact that all these classes have taught me there is a lot more to journalism than just going out in the world and writing whatever is on your mind... things such as ethics, legitimacy of your story, fact checking, sources, ways at presenting your information, etc. Ideally, both should work well together...

  5. I agree that websites like iReport are great sources for people interested in citizen journalism but I think that often the rewards are too low for people to make it a habit.

    I wonder if instead Twitter and YouTube (as well as other vlogging websites) can be deemed easier means for creating citizen journalism. For example, Twitter has been used in many cases as a first-report source of news on events, rallies, and tragic accidents. Similarly, YouTube offers wannabe citizen journalists an easy way to post relevant videos.

    I think that these sites offer lower barriers to entry than more "professional" citizen journalism sites like iReport because the content is often shorter and perhaps more current than long-form articles.

  6. I think citizen journalism adds an interesting dimension to journalism that didn't really exist prior to the 21st century. As journalism began to be taken more seriously, objectivity became the main goal. It sounds like some citizen journalists try to remain objective, but others do not.

    By giving ordinary citizens an avenue to express their opinions - and that's exactly what they are - journalism expands to present points of view outside of the realm of objectivity. As long as it remains clear that there is a difference between the standards citizen journalists and news/magazine journalists are held to, then I believe citizen journalism is a good thing.