The Value of Citizen Journalism

by sn2s

With so many interconnected people, it’s easy to find news from friends around the world. Citizen journalism is on the rise, but some fear that ordinary citizens are not qualified. How could a blogger possibly get more accurate information than a seasoned reporter? Many educated journalists feel challenged or threatened by these ordinary citizens. I think they should feel threatened because they have held cozy monopolies on information long enough.

First some important definitions:

Citizen journalism is defined as the involvement of non-professionals in reporting news, especially in blogs and other websites. (dictionary.com)

Journalism is defined as the occupation of reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting news or of conducting any news organization as a business. (dictionary.com)

News is determined by newsworthiness which includes one or more the following criteria: Impact, Conflict, Proximity, Prominence, Timeliness Human Interest, and others.

Establishment journalists argue that citizen journalists lack the proper training. Perhaps this is true. Journalists follow stylebooks; photographers learn to use lighting and so on. But that’s not to say that a degree suddenly makes someone objective or accurate. So-called bona fide news agencies aren’t obligated in any way to tell the truth. They have just as much of an agenda as any blogger. Companies also have gatekeepers that decide which stories are ignored.

Citizen journalists do have advertisers that link up with them, but they aren’t inherently locked behind a gate like traditional journalists. I think this has some value in terms of true freedom of expression. Citizen journalists definitely write about newsworthy topics, but are they always accurate? Of course not! I don’t think any supporters of citizen journalism even hold to this strawman attack.

Hachten and Scotton describe bloggers as “sometimes right and often wrong.”1 Accuracy is generally determined by aggregating separate sources that find similar findings. But even this cannot constitute truth. (appeal to popularity/majority fallacy)

If 50 bloggers in the same city are blogging about an event from their own unique perspectives, certain facts can be cross-linked for accuracy. That would give us 50 degrees of measuring accuracy as opposed to the single news agency telling us “how it is.” I think the future of journalists is to be someone whose job is to look at the 50 claims, and cross reference for the masses, rather than being the single voice blurred with propaganda.

I think that evaluating many voices on a single event far surpasses accepting the first thing heard from a news organization’s mouthpiece, especially when news is wholesaled around the world by Reuters and AP to local providers. I would also argue the major news corporations are sometimes right and often wrong light of recent events. The name released for the Navy Yard Shooter was wrongly reported by several news organizations. CNN has even been accused of propaganda in faking interviews in Syria. Being in an organization does not immunize reporters from spreading falsities either intentionally or by mistake. Likewise, of course, bloggers are also capable of lying.

The only confirmed truth in journalism is that everyone can both lie and tell the truth. Establishment journalists might have more credibility. Citizens might get more accurate information when cross referenced. I think that each should be evaluated carefully. I think people seeking accuracy need to be asking questions.

  • Who gains from the story?
  • Could the story be told from the opposite point of view?
  • Does the news agency or blogger have an agenda?
  • Do they serve higher or personal interests?
  • How is the story being told in different parts of the world? (time magazine covers)

All evidence is interpreted through the lenses of the writer and reader. All evidence.

1 Hachten, Scotton. The World News Prism

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