Journalism has changed drastically from when its first iteration originated in Rome and then spread to China. The occupation as we now know it started in Europe in the 1600’s, and throughout the following centuries, it evolved into the respected profession it is today. But it hasn’t stopped there, with the latest iteration being citizen journalism.
With the advent of the internet and social media came the age of information. This spelled a radical change from the previous century, where information was primarily dissipated to the public via media professionals. In the digital age, information is everywhere. This led to a role addition for those in the media – from being those who only put out the information to becoming those who not only release new information, but also verify existing news.
In the modern world, everyone can be a journalist, a concept known as citizen journalism.
What is citizen journalism?
Citizen journalism [is] journalism that is conducted by people who are not professional journalists but who disseminate information using Web sites, blogs, and social media.– Encyclopaedia Britannica
Citizen journalism has its roots in South Korea in the early 2000’s, and has grown by leaps and bounds since then. A notion where ‘everyone is a reporter,’ citizen journalism goes hand in hand with social media and the ease of spreading and accessing information online.
Since its inception, it has gained popularity for several other reasons as well, such as:
- Rising lack of trust in traditional media
- Greater coverage on minor issues
- Less censorship in certain areas
- Highlighting and providing a diverse range of voices and perspectives
- Enabling young people to voice more progressive viewpoints
Citizen journalism and the world
Citizen journalism has been the catalyst for modern reporting. It empowers people and encourages everyone to engage with their surrounds and report what they see and hear utilising their own channels, therefore paving the way for more diverse and niche reporting from multiple angles. In instances where citizens go up against States or authorities in power, citizen journalists can serve as a much-needed source of information, both for the citizens involved, and for the watching world.
The recent protests in Iran, the unrest in Cuba, and the long-standing protests in Sri Lanka were all movements with the heavy involvement of citizen journalists. Where State media was not trusted to report accurately or swiftly, ordinary citizens took to social media to report what they were seeing and what was happening, and even to debunk rumours and propaganda rife in the online circles.
The role and its responsibilities
A citizen journalist is defined by duties twofold: report on current events and verify existing information. As an individual reporting on any subject at all, it becomes their duty to ensure that any information they disseminate is accurate and verified through established sources. The demand for information verification saw its peak with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Dubbed an ‘infodemic’ with the mass attention it was receiving in the virtual space, the circumstances surrounding the global pandemic, namely the physical isolation and lockdowns, meant that there was a constant flood and following of information online. While some of it was helpful, a notable portion was inaccurate, spam, trolls, or conspiracy theories.
Citizen journalism was at its peak filtering out the misinformation and disinformation, debunking myths and conspiracy theories, and verifying COVID-19-related information to stifle the initial waves of panic. This was in response to other members of the general public spreading panic and misinformation through various channels. Efforts of citizen journalists were often interlinked with governments and traditional media outlets as well.
Becoming a citizen journalist
“With technology and social media and citizen journalism, every rock that used to go unturned is now being flipped, lit and put on TV.”– LZ Granderson
Becoming a citizen journalist is often not something you do by conscious choice. You might be one already. If you use social media to communicate to others about what’s going on in your community or to shed light on current events around you, you’re doing the work of a citizen journalist.
Citizen journalism not only amplifies events at a local community level that may not get airtime usually, but it can also help bring your community up to speed on local and global issues they may not be aware of. For example, if you live in Turkey, you might not be aware of the issues Papua New Guineans are facing across the other side of the world, and vice versa. Citizen journalism gives you the opportunity to talk about your community to the wider world, and to talk about the wider world to your community.
While citizen journalists have no legal or professional obligation to report at industry standards, it’s always good practice to report verified facts in an accurate manner. This cements your reputation, and might also give you access to well-known publishers if you want to urgently highlight anything drastically affecting your locale.
On the flip side, it also comes with many risks, particularly in terms of what you share. As a citizen journalist, you may be looking to other citizen journalists for proof of information. The lack of professional verification means there’s room for the information you receive to get distorted. Be mindful and only connect with:
- traditional and reliable media outlets
- reputable sources on the ground
- other trusted citizen journalists whose information/reputation is longstanding.
Also keep in mind that unlike a traditional media journalist, a citizen journalist can be subjective. While this can be helpful to get a proper look at one side of the story, ensure that you read a few viewpoints on the same issue so that you get a balanced look at a topic.
Lastly, remember that you – and other citizen journalists – are only human. Make sure you double and triple check everything, and be responsible in how and what you share. Be mindful of how your audience would react to your content, and how it will impact them.
Citizen journalism compliments volunteering
As volunteers, we’re often looking at and working on specific issues in a community, be it welfare, psycho-social support, animal rescue, or anything else. Chances are, you are already using your social media to raise awareness on the issues important to you, and probably debunking various related myths and misinformation as well.
Congratulations! You are a citizen journalist! Make sure you live up to the title and the responsibility.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of IVolunteer International.
IVolunteer International is a 501(c)3 tech-nonprofit registered in the United States with operations worldwide. Using a location-based mobile application, we mobilize volunteers to take action in their local communities. Our vision is creating 7-billion volunteers. We are an internationally recognized nonprofit organization and is also a Civil Society Associated with the United Nations Department of Global Communications. Visit our profiles on Guidestar, Greatnonprofits, and FastForward.