In the beginning there were cave paintings telling the story of the days’ hunt and from those humble beginnings we have advanced rapidly across the pages of time to a place where the citizen is once again reporting the “news” from their perspective.
Considered the founder of citizen journalism a South Korean website, “Oh my news”, began what has become a global phenomenon whereby, the ordinary person can wax lyrical on their topic of choice sometimes with knowledge of the topic but mostly in a manner to be found by people discussing topics around the dinner table. The real value in citizen journalism can therefore be found by reading between the lines.
When viewed with a critical mindset the road to truth can be personally navigated by the reader, opinions can be dismissed or even included into ones’ own argument, and a general sense for and against the topic being discussed can be appreciated from different perspectives from sources around the globe.
The ability to report from the ground into a global audience cannot be undervalued. This type of reporting can be exemplified through the work of Salam Pax, an Iraqi blogger who chronicled his life in the years 2002-2004 voicing his anti-Sadam sentiment, a point of view which would otherwise have been punishable by death in his native country. Salam himself comments on the dangers he flirted with in using his blog to share his views in an article he wrote for the The Guardian newspaper highlighting the fears he felt when his blog was picked up by the media and used for quotes in other articles further spreading his message but also increasing the attention being drawn to himself and his family.
As media is being consumed on ever increasingly different platforms and devices, citizen journalists can use blogs and youtube channels to reach a wider and more sympathetic audience. The wide range of platforms operating today have become ever more important for the decimation of information to those for whom literacy of language can be a barrier and thus bringing those to whom access to the argument might have been difficult, to a place where they too can share in the debate.
The advent of fake news has shone a spotlight on the dangers of citizen journalism . Citizen Journalism has recently become a platform for those who wish to spread propaganda and slander as highlighted by “echo chambers”.
“The echo chamber effect that occurs online is due to a harmonious group of people amalgamating and developing tunnel vision. Participants in online communities may find their own opinions constantly echoed back to them, which reinforces their individual belief systems. This is happening because the Internet has provided access to a wide range of readily available information and people are increasingly receiving their news online through untraditional sources. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter, have established personalization algorithms that cater specific information to individuals’ online newsfeeds. This method of curating content has replaced the function of the traditional news editor. (Wikipedia)”
The ethical responsibility to report news in a factual manner is being deliberatly sidestepped in place of political agendas and interest groups supporting or confusing events for their own gain.
An example of the negative results that can come from the abuse of citizen journalism reporting can be clearly seen in the resulting 10 point stock dip Apple’s shares suffered in 2008. A fake news report posted on CNN’s iReport ( a site that lets anyone put up posts and videos about the news. Its tagline is “Unedited. Unfiltered. News.”) went viral as the writer posted a fake story regarding Steve Jobs suffering a heart attack
“Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.”
The report found its’ way into the mainstream media resulting in temporary damage to the share price of the Apple stock as well as the further embarrassment to CNN’s credentials for vetting news stories. The decimation of fake news through this type of unvalidated citizen journalism is clearly contrary to the type of reporting practiced by Salam Pax but it does hoist a red flag warning about how citizen journalism can be abused.