getting amongst it: a brief look at citizen journalism

Does anybody else remember videos of fights going viral on YouTube? They would always be terrible quality phone videos, with the shaky-handed person behind the camera shouting “Worldstar!”. These kinds of videos are buried deep in my brain, with the 2015 memories of American Apparel and ‘pastel goth’. When I think about it, however, this was my first exposure to (albeit shoddy) citizen journalism.

‘Citizen journalism’ is an incredibly broad term but is best described as “individuals or groups who [are] not aligned with publishers as ‘professional journalists’… [who] collect, edit and provide publishers with (or publish directly) news material that [is] out of publishers’ reach” (Cokley & Tilley 2008, p.94-95). With the growth of social media, citizen journalism has also developed “an aim to curate information as it [is] released” (Wall 2015). A great current example of this is The Guardian curating information about the COVID-19 situation in Sydney and delivering it to young people who primarily use TikTok over news websites.

The Guardian using TikTok to deliver COVID news to young people. Video via @guardianaustralia on TikTok

So does this mean citizen journalism is ‘good’?

In my honest opinion, there are advantages and disadvantages that leave my thoughts almost squarely in the middle. Citizen journalism allows those who do not normally watch or read the news to get an insight into it, and allows stories to spread before being manipulated by mass media. On the other hand, citizen journalist reports are rarely fact-checked before publishing, so falsehoods can spread quite quickly before being stopped.

In France, citizen journalism is now nearly as common as professional journalism, and the practice has undergone significant research in order “to better understand the stakes it raises and to identity the main issues” (Ali 2019, p.2). Similar to the ‘curation’ aspect that I mentioned earlier, France uses citizen journalism to widen the reach of the news & give opportunity for new voices to deliver the news. A great example of this is Urban Street Reporters (USR) – an organisation aimed at delivering news to young people.

USR’s presence spans across multiple social media platforms and delivery formats, but the format that intrigues me the most is Street Mic. This format entails a USR reporter going onto the streets and asking young people their opinions on current news. I’ve attached the Street Mic segment entitled ‘Le Deconfinement’, where they discuss their feelings about being out of confinement (what we know as lockdown), and their potential fears surrounding the deconfinement.

France seemingly has more trust in citizen journalism due to its ‘strict institutional controls’, leading citizens to believe falsehoods are few and far between in the news.

“France has a polarized pluralist system, and polarization might be expected to facilitate the circulation and reinforcement of falsehoods. However, France also has a multi-channel public broadcaster and strict institutional controls over media content supervised by the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel, which might mitigate falsehoods.”

Boulianne, Bimber, Gomez, Kok-Michalska & Jenkins 2020, p.451

I think that France’s use of citizen journalism, especially the example of USR, is proof that not all citizen journalists are driven by ‘fake news’ or ulterior motives, like we often see in places like the U.S. Especially with the constant growth of social media, Australia will need to adopt a larger reliability on citizen journalism, as young people are the ones who often need the news the most.

References:

Ali, W. 2019, “Citizen Journalism in France: Professional Practice and Self-Regulation”, Athens Journal of Mass Media and Communications, pp. 1-19, viewed 24th August 2021

Bimber, B., Boulianne, S., Gomez, D., Kok-Michalska, K. & Jenkins, M. 2020, “Public Beliefs About Falsehoods in News”, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol.25, pp.447-468, viewed 24th August 2021

Tilley, E. & Cokley, J. 2008, ‘Deconstructing the Discourse of Citizen Journalism: Who Says What and Why It Matters’, Pacific Journalism Review: PJR, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 94–114, viewed 24th August 2021

Wall, M 2015, ‘Citizen Journalism: A retrospective on what we know, an agenda for what we don’t’, Digital journalism, vol. 3, no. 6, pp. 797–813, viewed 24th August 2021

Urban Street Reporters 2020, Street Mic: The Deconfinement, viewed 24th August 2021, http://urbanstreetreporters.com/2020/05/25/street-mic-deconfinement/

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