Citizen Journalism across the world

Citizen journalism in the United States and citizen journalism around the world serve two completely different purposes and accomplish different goals. In the US, we’re lucky enough to have freedom of speech and the ability to publish news (or whatever people consider to be news), whenever we want. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in other countries across the world.

Consider places like North Korea, where television is state-run, and television and radio sets must be registered with the police, and are pre-tuned to government channels and stations. Although this is just one example, it makes it nearly impossible for news to funnel in and out of the country. Egypt has a limited number of television stations, and a few were ordered to cease service as repercussions for a military coup that happened in July 2013.

These may be just a few examples, but certainly opens up a wide opportunity for citizen journalism to step in and fill a big void in the media cycle. During the 2011 Arab Spring, camera phones were the easiest and fastest way to get news out of the Middle East. Started in Tunisia, anti-government protests quickly spread to other Middle Eastern countries. During this conflict, camera phones became the main thoroughfare for news. As noted by The Guardian, Al-Jazeera’s citizen media service had over 1,000 entries a day of happenings during Egyptian President Hosni Mubarack’s removal.

Numbers like that don’t lie. No matter where someone is in the world, they have the ability to tell a story. Especially in places where media is largely restricted, the news that does escape is largely citizen journalist based. “Regular” media is largely banned, especially during uprisings and military missions, to put even stricter control on the already frowned-upon media.

International relations are incredibly important to the United States and our democracy, so keeping tabs on other countries stability is something the government and country monitor closely. This is why, when things happen, like the capture of Saddam Hussein, Occupy Wallstreet, the Arab Spring, and most recently Typhoon Haiyan, dominate the news and social media. People across the world bring issues to light, whether they’re humanitarian, civil, governmental, or other, that we, in the US, would otherwise not know much about.

I believe that everyone has a story to tell. In places of a more oppressed nature, where media isn’t freely available and restrictions are placed on nearly all activities, there could be a desire to get the content out there. Smartphones, social media, and blogs are just a few ways in which citizen journalism has made an impact in overseas diplomacy. There may not be more emphasis on citizen journalism across the world, but it serves a completely different purpose in a lot of cases.


Does journalism need a definition?

With all the changes going on in how people gather, report, and share the news, it’s no wonder the state of journalism is kind of in flux right now. Standards have certainly changed over the years, as have expectations of journalists and journalism. Think about today’s 24-hour news cycle. Back during World War II, that wasn’t even a thought. People had no idea they would one day be able to turn on news at any hour.

Being in this current flux, where information is much more accessible to the general public (not just journalists), it begs the question: does journalism even need a definition anymore?

My personal thoughts—yes… kind of. I think there need to be a few basic, understood principles and tasks specifically defined. But nobody really cares why I think anything.

Despite my opinion, I can absolutely see why some people would say no. They make some valid points! Take for example Jeff Jarvis. He writes that journalism is nothing more than a service whose end is an informed public. I agree with this, and certainly I would say that citizens have more control over their news consumption than ever before.

As Jarvis writes, “Journalism is not content. It is not a noun. It need not be a profession or an industry. It is not the province of a guild. It is not a scarcity to be controlled. It no longer happens in newsrooms. It is no longer confined to narrative form.”

Some of the longstanding “tasks” of a journalist still apply today—like asking questions, verifying facts, and adding background information to a story. Now, people can help do this like they were never able to before. Journalism has turned into a much more collaborative effort from both professional journalists and citizens (or citizen journalists, whatever you prefer).

Citizen journalists have quickly been able to go around professional journalists and get their content used, which parallels Jarvis’ thoughts. Journalism doesn’t happen in newsrooms anymore. It happens in the cities, streets, and neighborhoods where people live. That’s why journalism is constantly changing, and the definition of it has shifted as well.

Everyone is capable of committing acts of journalism, whether it is print, visual, television, or another medium. No matter what side of the definition fence you sit on, it’s unquestionable that journalism now still heavily relies on (and has access to) citizen journalism, and whether we like it or not, citizen journalism is changing journalism from what we knew before.

The LAX Shooting and the opinions of many

Although the recent shooting at LAX was nothing short of tragic, it provides a good case study example for how social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, aid in the spreading of breaking news. Specifically, the CNN i-Report was all over this shooting, constantly tweeting from @cnnireport.

Let’s go back to the day of the attack- November 1. The first tweet was from CNN’s Brooke Baldwin, but the second was i-Report immediately asking for photos or any information they can get.

Within minutes, there was this:

Look at the photo. Erika’s tweet got a negative reaction because it doesn’t show anything other than airplanes. Twitter users said, what’s the big deal?


Just some of the online reactions to Erika Gammon’s tweet. Photo credit: @cnnireport







One of the most intriguing tweets I saw was this one:

Another interesting aspect to this journalist/source relationship is that @cnnireport actually tags their submitters in tweets whenever possible. They also encourage their followers to follow these people-turned-citizen journalists for a real time update on what was happening at LAX.

Check out this example:

Alone, Tory’s tweet was retweeted 107 times, and favorited 52 times. All of these tweets happened within minutes of each other, providing an up-to-date, “as its happening” view of the situation until more details emerged.

It didn’t seem to matter what the content was, whether it be a quote, or photo, people were interested in just spreading the news as quickly as possible. As judging by Erika’s tweet however, not everything is useful. The race to be first sometimes wins out over the race to be right in the news world, and this photo was one example of that. People like action, emotion, and new information. Anyone can take a photo of an airplane. Famed author and scholar Dan Gillmor, says this race is exactly the problem. In these types of frantic news situations, the best thing to do is sit back and report slowly and accurately, he says. We can analyze for days when all the details come out. Like we are now, after it was just released that the police missed the shooter “by minutes,” as they were asked to do a welfare check on him.

This is one of the downsides of citizen journalism. Human nature is to be competitive, and to provide instant gratification. Part of instant gratification comes from the audience—maybe that’s the world we live in?