What is Citizen Journalism?
The internet has spawned many things, and cat videos are not at the top of the list. News hits our social media streams and it is not always by the mainstream media. Today, people are exploring their creativity and their voice. One of those voices is the Citizen Journalism.
What is Citizen Journalism?
Citizen Journalism is an organization of non-professional journalists. This type of journalism was around before the professionalization of reporting began. Now, in modern times, these untrained journalists have become a force to be reckoned with.
Citizen Journalism focuses on economic and social challenges. They also question the mainstream journalistic institutions. They gather news and images in which the mainstream news sources ignore. They use live streaming, video blogs, blogs, and social media to get their reports out to the world.
History of Citizen Journalism.
The earliest reporting known was in ancient Rome, Acta Diurna. Others were in China during the Tang Dynasty, Germany in 1609, and in London in 1622. America’s first newspaper was in 1690. The first continuously published newspaper was The Boston News-Letter in 1704. During this time, there was no ‘official’ training for journalists, the citizens ran the newspapers.
Citizen Journalism is not new, but the terminology is, debuting in 2000. Benjamin Franklin used the Pennsylvania Gazette to publish his experiments with electricity and to voice his political views. Thomas Paine used a pamphlet, “Common Sense,” advocating for American independence from Great Britain.
During the birth of America, there was no established journalism profession. Was the First Amendment of protecting freedom of the press for the citizen journalists?
In 1908, Columbia’s University of Missouri added journalism to their curriculum.
The school focused on producing responsible, professional journalists. The classes taught their students editorial writing and news management. Thanks to the invention of the radio, in 1936, the school offered a course in radio broadcasting. Then came television, and in 1953, the school offered a course in television broadcasting.
Now, the University of Missouri offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs in journalism. The courses cover photojournalism to emerging media. The school only has one online master’s program, and in the spring 2019 semester, they will offer a certificate program in Interactive Media.
A year later, in 1909, the Society of Professional Journalists, formerly known as Sigma Delta Chi, appeared on the campus of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana. The society expanded to other campuses in the United States. In 1916, they went from an honorary fraternity to a professional one. In 1926 they adopted their first code of ethics via the American Society of Newspaper Editors. In 1960, they went from fraternity status to a professional society. In 1969 they admitted women journalists. Now, there are many journalism organizations.
Yellow Journalism is a style of reporting that uses sensationalism over facts to sell papers. At first, Yellow Journalism had nothing to do with journalism. It was about a cartoon strip in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper called “Hogan’s Alley.” The main character is Yellow Kid, and the cartoon increased the newspaper’s sales. Randolph Hearst hired the cartoonist from Pulitzer. Pulitzer had to hire a new cartoonist for his paper to continue the cartoon strip.
With the term out in the world, it expanded from cartoon to sensationalizing world events. The feud continued between Hearst and Pulitzer to the point of publishing rumors that the Spanish intended to sink the U.S. battleship, “The Maine.” Now the papers called for war, and war is what they got.
The press did not play a prominent role in bringing about the war, more significant characters were at play. But, the war showed how much power the press has in grabbing the attention and influencing the public.
In modern times, Yellow Journalism is still a thing, but better known as ‘Fake News’ or ‘Click-Bait’ articles. We see it sprayed all over our social media platforms. We read about a death of celebrity and ‘share’ or ‘tweet’ their passing, but then we find out they are not dead. Today, it is hard to tell the difference between the real news and the fake news.
“The anecdotes pile up about this contaminated food chain, as it were, of spin or imbalanced incomplete messages in papers, which then leads to spin and imbalanced incomplete messages in news releases, and then it leads to really inadequate news stories.”
– Gary Schwitzer, Publisher of Health News Review
In a perfect world, a journalist would read the press release. They would research what the press release is about by doing interviews with experts. They would read relating news and journal articles. The journalist would later write an unbiased article. The article would go through at least one editor, or more, then to the Editor-in-Chief before publication.
The ideal journalistic world is not real. Media outlets compete for readers. Even if they only have a small amount of information, they go live with it on the internet, television, and radio. It is a race who gets their story out to the readers the fastest, and it is us, the readers, who pay the price for incomplete or wrong reporting.
The Return of Citizen Journalism.
With modern technology at our disposal, the citizens are using it to become journalists. They do this to make up for what the professional journalists are lacking. Take a quick search on YouTube, go on. I bet you found videos ranging from police officers helping people to them not enforcing the “Constitution of the United States.” You found people reporting on local events, documenting the horrors of their world, and covering protests. They report their findings via video, live stream, or on their website or blog. Many content-driven sites like Buzzfeed and Blasting News allows you to post your news stories.
No Respect for Citizen Journalism.
Citizen Journalists do not get respect. Many times they are arrested for recording or taking pictures with their smartphones under ‘interfering with police duties.’ According to the American Civil Liberties Union, civilians have the right to film and photograph in public spaces of anything that is in plain sight. This includes federal buildings, police, protests, and transportation facilities. The First, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh Circuit Courts have recognized the First Amendment right to record police and other public officials. The only time a police officer can order a citizen to stop filming or arrest them if what they are doing is LEGITIMATELY interfering with a LEGITIMATE law enforcement operation. If you are not interfering with an arrest, official activity, in harm’s way, trespassing on private or government property, or violating private rights then there is nothing the police can do.
How to Become a Respected Citizen/Professional Journalist.
- The reason we have journalism is to provide everyone with the correct information they need to decide about themselves, their community, and their government.
- The first obligation of a journalist, professional and citizen, is to the TRUTH. People need reliable and accurate facts to make proper decisions, and to function day-to-day.
- If you are a journalist, professional or citizen, your first loyalty is to your readers/viewers, to the people of your community and country.
- Verify, verify, verify your information. Seek multiple witnesses, ask various sides for a comment. Research both sides.
- Journalism is the watchdog and gives voice to the voiceless. Bill Kovach states that being a journalist is, “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.”
- Journalists must try to be fair and accurate through using objective methods and managing their biases.
- Don’t appear flaunting or flashing. Concentrate on getting the information.
- When using questions, take heed not to sound rude. Give time for the person to respond to your questions.
- Listen to what the person is saying.
- Use your eyes on the person’s body language.
- Don’t lie or sensationalize your reports.
If a Police Officer Stops/Detains You
- Remain polite and do not resist
- Ask, “Am I free to go?” If no, then you are detained. Asking the question makes it known they are stopping your involuntary. If you don’t ask the question, then the stop is viewed as voluntary.
- If detained, in your polite voice, ask what crime they suspect you of committing. If they use filming/photography as the reason, remind the police officers that the First Amendment protects you and does not constitute a reasonable suspicion of a crime, and you were not interfering in the police duties.
Citizen Journalism Websites:
- News Participation
- Blasting News
- Guardian Witness
- Global Voices
- Google Bulletin
- The Daily Voice
- Start your own website/blog/vlog
Websites to Learn About Journalism
- American Press Institute
- Society of Professional Journalists
- TED Talks
- International Journalists’ Network
If you are thinking about becoming a Citizen Journalist, know your rights. Stay safe.