The role of the citizen journalist

What is the role of the citizen journalist in journalism? Certainly, the role is more important online than it is in print, but what does it mean for journalism in general? John Kelly (2009) wrote an article about the citizen journalist entitled: ‘Red Kayaks and Hidden Gold: the rise, challengers and value of citizen journalism’, which I will refer to in this blog post.

A video I took while on the anti-cuts march in London, March 26, 2011.

Now, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a fan of citizen journalism. I, myself, have taken part in it, with the student demonstration in London in November 2010, and again in the public sector cuts protest in March 2011 (video above). On both occasions, I was frantically taking photos, videos and tweeting them all as I ran away from police officers and into the path of paint bombs. However, I do have a few problems with the term ‘citizen journalist’ and the apparent umbrella of ‘skills’ that it covers. Shane Bowman and Chris Willis (2003) say that citizen journalism is the:

“act of citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information.”

Kelly goes on to say that citizen journalism “can be a comment posted at the end of an online newspaper story”, and this is when I begin to disagree and criticise. Journalism can be enriched by citizen journalism, but just because a person was somewhere at the right – or wrong – time, does not open the term ‘journalist’ up to them, and everyone else who was there and took a photo. A comment on a newspaper story online does not count either; it’s a similar process to readers’ letters in print newspapers, and you wouldn’t define those people as citizen journalists.

Journalism is about so much more than searching Google images (in the red kayak/missing person story). A journalist has to have a whole collection of skills – more than what Bowman and Willis (2003) describe above. A journalist has to know the important ‘inverted triangle’ of a story, the angle, and the newswriting capability to be interesting. A journalist has to be pithy, witty, and convincing. Just like the fact that some people have more musical ability than others, I believe the same applies to journalism.

But as I said before, I like citizen journalism, but I do think the term can be too widely defined. Many of what comes under it is more ‘UGC’ (user-generated content), like comments on newspaper stories online. I think perhaps the term irks current journalists because it contains the word ‘journalism’. Much the same way that a person on the X Factor singing out of key and calling themselves a singer would irk someone who could actually sing.

Technological advances and audiences’ demands mean that citizen journalism is almost certainly here to stay, but in no way is it a problem. ‘Citizen journalism’ is not a job title, nor will people ever be pain annual salaries for it. We just need to stop over-thinking it.

One thought on “The role of the citizen journalist

  1. I completely agree with your point that the term citizen journalism is too widely defined, people use it too much and it gives a negative impact. We should also, as you said, stop over thinking it! Oh and good video

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