An Observation of “Citizen Journalism”

The citizen’s role in journalism hasn’t changed much over history, yet the means of carrying out the role has been altered greatly. With the age of technology in full swing, taking recorded videos and pictures and putting them onto the internet has never been easier or simpler. 

Take a look at journalism before today’s age:

Over the course of recent history, citizen journalism has always been present and has always been innovative. The first observed case of citizen journalism occurred during JFK’s assassination. Abraham Zapruder, a private citizen, was filming the president’s motorcade and unexpectedly captured his assassination with a top-of-the-line home-movie camera: a Bell and Howell 8 mm camera with an innovative feature, slow-motion at 48 fps. Zapruder’s 20 second film was a key component to the investigation of the president’s death as well as his autopsy. 


More recently, citizens’ pictures, footage, and personal accounts of the 9/11 terrorist attacks are also fine examples of citizen journalism. Various citizens’ accounts were seen and heard all over the news, arguably helping fuel the story as it progressed for weeks to come. Although the usage of media helped innovate the duty of the citizen journalist, the internet and technology weren’t successful enough when it came to conveying information quickly in a breaking-news situation. 

Last year, the citizens of Cairo, Egypt documented the Tahir Square Protests with breathtaking photographs and videos of the massive gathering. This example of citizen journalism also demonstrated the new power of technology as a means of easily conveying information around the world; the Egyptian government actually blocked cell phone and internet usage at nationwide. 


These examples of citizen journalism are examples of the most effective and correct way that citizens can help the journalistic process. Unfortunately, citizen journalism has been bastardized, especially with the rapid development of the internet. Though the use of blogs, Twitter, and Youtube, citizens with no formal education or experience in journalism have taken jobs away from professionals by posting blatantly opinionated and attention-seeking pieces online. 

In today’s society, the role of the “Citizen Journalist” has come to prominence. Citizen journalism has been defined on as, “The involvement of non-professionals in news, especially in blogs and other websites.” 

“Involvement” is a vague term. As opposed to actually helping the media get leads and information it needs, “bloggers” have chosen to disrupt the journalistic process by smearing potential lead information with bias and conducting improper interviewing/investigating. 

“Citizen journalists” also corrupt internet users’ personal opinions with their own. Usually, online bloggers or Youtube users will find creative ways to draw readers and viewers into believing their points of view. While journalists who are employed work for a profit, online bloggers usually work for no one: this means that the information they disseminate is free. Whether this information is trustworthy, is another story. 

According to Clay Shirky, a telecommunications professor at New York University, “the days of professional journalism is over: there are more amateurs than professionals.”  This statement is undoubtedly true, (millions of people use Facebook, Twitter, forums, etc) yet it also presents itself as a warning sign. With so many opinions around the internet, which ones should we believe?

The citizen’s role in journalism should be to present potentially newsworthy information to the public and the press. With technology today, this has never been easier! Rather than post information to the internet with a brand, post a story as soon as it happens – don’t wait for a day or two to write up an opinionated blog that most likely few will read, get the news out! 

The internet’s ease of accessibility should be taken advantage of, at least in the field of citizen journalism. The fate of online journalism is unknown, but the fact that anyone can post anything at anytime on the internet is such an advantageous concept. (Imagine what could have happened if Twitter was around during the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center!) In order facilitate the journalistic process, different news network’s websites should include more interactive features when it comes to posting their own information. (leads, evidence, etc) 

The new age of technology has proved both beneficial and detrimental to the journalistic world. It may take many years to perfect the art of reporting over the internet, but the time to start framing it is now. It’s a given: anyone can post news online. Non-professionals who blog with bias on the internet: either become a professional journalist and improve your credibility, or take your ideas and bring them into another field that’s more well suited to you.



1 Comment

Filed under Class Work, Historical Context, Journalism, News, Opinion

One response to “An Observation of “Citizen Journalism”

  1. David Perkins

    This is an intelligent short essay. I don’t know that Shirky is quite correct: A high percentage of links in tweets are to mainstream media.

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