University Work Portfolio Essays

To What Extent Does DIY Or Citizen Journalism Challenge The Conventions Of Mainstream News Media? – Essay

By on May 15, 2013

It is not a strange sight to see a news story nowadays without a crowd of citizens and members of the public surrounding the subject, poking and prodding it with just about any type of lens made. Each one is trying to get the story published on their numerous social networks or have their names included in that BBC article as the ‘person who was there – with footage’. ‘DIY’, ‘guerrilla’, and ‘street’ journalists are all different terms used to describe citizen journalistsProdusage is the term Bruns uses to highlight the blending of producing and consuming information (Bruns 2008) made popular by the critics of mainstream news media organisations that produce the nations official newspapers, it certainly elects an array of different opinions by professional journalists.  While some are grateful for the wider range of sources to write articles about which are provided by DIY journalists, others begrudge and fear it, and justifiably so; Could they perhaps see it as a threat against trained journalists to be as large of a scale as the threat of online news against print news?

The emergence of citizen journalism is actually something that isn’t recent. ‘Reader participation in journalism has a long history. It dates at least to eighteenth-century England, when newspapers regularly left space at the end of the third page for reader comments, with a blank forth page so that the paper might be folded and addressed like an ordinary letter’ (Singer et al 2011: 13). However, it’s significance has grown and is its being used more now than ever before due to the Internet, citizen journalisms main sponsor (Rosenberry and St. John 2010: 22-30).  While journalists see themselves as the gatekeepers – ‘overall process through which the social reality transmitted by the news media is constructed’ (Shoemaker 2001: 233) this view has been destabilized and challenged by technological platforms like social media networks, which is the largest platform of citizen journalists. Lax and negligent journalism from the mainstream news media has lead to news consumers deciding to seek information from elsewhere – cue citizen journalism, this has been seen as a act of rebelliousness by the mainstream media and they are seemingly attempting to fix this relationship with their consumers. ‘A canyon of disbelief and distrust has developed between the public and the news media. This gorge has widened at an accelerating rate during the last decade. Its darkness frightens the media.’ (Sanford 1999:11)

Despite how powerful and progressive citizen journalism may appear, it is similar to any uprising aspect of the 21st century, which most certainly isn’t flawless. Amidst the on-going legal battle led by Lord Leveson regarding culture, practices and ethics of the press – especially press regulation – the question has been raised on the issue of citizen journalism and the regulation existing for it. Within Lord Leveson’s final report he included a section titled ‘alternative news providers’ (Leveson 2012: Chapter 3) the Internet does not lend itself to regulation. It is made up of a very large number of interconnected, largely autonomous networks, operating from many different legal jurisdictions without any obvious central governing body.” (Leveson 2012: 3.8: 166) suggesting the difficulty of regulating a platform of such large magnitude. Subsequently, the debate raised here is that if these ‘citizen journalists’ can’t have their content regulated online, why should the mainstream news media have to follow a strict code of conduct and regulations. This was the argument put forward by The Sun when they published Prince Harry’s naked photos; they argued that if the content was freely being posted elsewhere without no subsequent regulation, why did they not hold a right to do the same. Moreover, blogs are a rapidly expanding tool that allows people to publish their own content. It has increased in popularity as the online community can use it to access alternative modes of news and one of the most famous examples of a successful Blog is the Huffington Post. (www.huffingtonpost.co.uk) Lord Leveson identified the Huffington Post as a unique Blog which submits itself to regulation by the national PCC and claims to abide by the Editors’ Code of Practice; (Leveson 2012: 4.20: 171) Self hosted blogs such as those like blogger (www.blogger.com) promote creativity and the ability to write whatever a blogger wants to write, meaning that they do not regulate the content that their users publish (Leveson 2012: 4.25: 172) Most trained and professional journalists feel that DIY journalists are challenging their job, especially bloggers. Furthermore, having to regulate everything they write when other people don’t does not seem very fair to them and they want regulation to apply to both groups. We have established that regulation on blogs is very minimal to non-existent, yet what little regulation that exists is the fact that admins are able to moderate what comments are added to blogs and in that way prevent demeaning comments to be added. Also, there is a feature on most blogs where a reader can report the blog post as offending whereby it will be submitted for reviewing and dealt with accordingly. The issue of regulation between mainstream news media and citizen journalists seems to be a never ending conflict; it seems that whatever the final verdict drawn from Lord Leveson’s enquiry is, it will not affect or impose any regulation on citizen journalists. Nevertheless, is this justified and fair to impose regulation on one group but not the other?

An aggregator is someone or something that brings things together. Aggregators could be anything from a search engine like Google or a social network like Twitter. Platforms like Google News promotes mainstream news media, however, how do aggregators help promote citizen journalism? Blogs provide users with the opportunity to add tags to their posts, which allow them to be easily identifiable on search engines; the hashtag is the Twitter equivalent. The immediacy and rapid circulation power from Micro-blogging social site Twitter has given both citizen journalists and mainstream news media a platform to promote and spread their work to the masses reaching a number Newspapers could only dream of. This means that mainstream news media are yet again being challenged by citizen journalists because their potential audience could read anything from both sides, like it and subscribe for more, ultimately giving citizen journalists more credibility.

Journalists belonging to the mainstream news media must comply with the Editors Code of Conduct; a code of moral rules, journalists are expected to follow. There are debates as to whether this is actually observed by professional journalists; some argue that the existence of such a code is just as good even though some do not follow through and comply with it. Some claim that is an improvement from approaches a citizen journalist would usually take, as they are not bound by, nor need to subscribe to the editor’s code of conduct – they are only under the pressure of their own moral beliefs. Yet again, is this fair and justified? Since they are not bound by the same rules, as they do not necessarily need to take an objective and impartial approach to their writing. This is an issue as many people have taken to reading content written by citizen journalists, expecting it to be reliable and authentic. Other ethical issues is that saying citizen journalists shouldn’t be able to write news goes against most democratic countries ‘freedom of speech laws’.  Its suggested, that while journalism offers a ‘fresher forums of debate, it has failed to probe the larger flaws in a vision of democracy as the conversational engagement of everybody’ (Glasser 1999:106).

The third position approach is supposedly taken by all kinds of journalists, whether they are mainstream news media journalists or citizen journalists. It is supposed to go hand in hand with the idea of objectivity, but some criticise the third position approach as much as they criticise the idea of objectivity and what people argue is the mythology of it. The third position is when two subjects of a story are reported about by the journalist by him taking the third position and therefore standing on a completely different platform as the two subjects in the story. This is similar to standing on top of a battlefield and reporting the happenings as they go on, without showing favour to any of the two sides. While it is doubted that mainstream news media journalists subscribe to taking the third position when reporting stories, it is even more doubted that citizen journalists take this approach either as DIY citizen journalists are known for reporting on matters that they have personal passion for. Effectively, they would be taking part in the story and would thus make it participatory journalism, as taking the third position approach promotes objectivity. However, if the person is fuelled by their passion about the story, they will be blinded by the ideologies of one side of the story and they will not be reporting it in an objective way, this is called the journalism of attachment (Calcutt and Hammond 2011: 20).

Moreover, Soldier-journalism, branched from embedded journalism has been argued to be a new form of citizen journalism. Soldiers are taking it upon themselves to capture moments of their activities during wars, the Afghanistan war has been a recent example of this, however, the “darker side of soldier-journalism is best and most famously represented in pictures like those which emerged from Abu Ghraib and of soldiers in Afghanistan posing while manipulating corpses, urinating on the dead” (Glenton 2012)

Photographs are also problematic in authentic sourcing. The positioning of the camera in a photograph can give a completely different meaning to a reader. While most mainstream news media journalists claim to get their photographs from reliable sources, the same cannot necessarily be said for citizen journalists, as they may often neglect to show the entire story inside the photograph. While there may be some truth to the phrase “A photograph is 1000 words”, it still depends on the angle and positioning of a photograph to show what is really happening in the picture.

Even though citizen journalism has supposedly been around since the eighteenth century, it has its moments in history. There have been historical events in which citizen journalism was used in a large and effective way.  The Tsunami of 2004 and the Lebanon War in 2006 saw a surge of citizen journalism as citizens were submitting content via devices. This audience generated footage served as a source and material, which was then used by the mainstream news media journalists, as they were countries that were otherwise inaccessible at the time. Furthermore, another example of citizen journalism being used is by South Korean citizens in 2007, where many people felt that the mainstream news media were neglecting to inform the public of the true events happening around the country so by using citizen journalism – they rebelled by giving people a ‘real source of information’. However, sometimes an event happens unexpectedly, and someone just happens to take photos and videos of the aftermath; this becomes the material used by mainstream news media journalists. This was the case during the London Bombings of 2007; “Within six hours we received more than 1,000 photographs, 20 pieces of amateur video, 4,000 text messages, and 20,000 e-mails. People were participating in our coverage in a way we had never seen before. (Sambrook 2005: 13). Finally, the most recent example of the use of citizen journalism is The Arab Spring of 2011; while it saw a surge in citizen journalism, it was also a revolution aided by social media.  Even when the governments of the participating countries banned Internet access, citizens still managed to find ways to let the world know what was going on. Although blogs were used during The Arab Spring revolutions, social networks Facebook and Twitterwere the tools that expanded and revolutionised the concept of citizen journalism. NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin wrote an entire book based on the twitter footage of the Arab Spring (Carvin 2012)

In a survey for bloggers by Pew they found out that 2/3rd of bloggers do not see their user-generated content as journalism (Pew 2006), 30% ranked blogs as ‘important’ sources of news (Kelly 2009: 43) (Zogby International: 2007). However, there is not enough research that has been conducted which would hint at the overall success of DIY journalism. The Guardian’s multimedia foreign correspondent Ben Hammersley stated, “Bloggers can report, analyse, interpret, investigate and explain; blogs can contain journalism, but blogging isn’t of itself journalism.”  (Quinn, Lamble 2008: 45) Journalists genuinely welcome the contributions of eyewitness reports (Singer et al 2011: 39).  In conclusion, I believe to a certain extent, citizen journalism challenges mainstream news media. However, it must be stressed that it compliments journalism and pushes it to improve and adapt and it still has a long way to go before it becomes perfect.

Bibliography

Bruns, A. (2008) Blogs, Wikipedia, Second life, and Beyond. New York: Peter Lang.

Calcutt, A. and Hammond, P. (2011) Journalism studies. London: Routledge.

Carvin, A. (2012) Distant witness. New York, NY: CUNY Journalism Press.

Glasser, T. (1999) The idea of public journalism. New York: Guilford Press.

Glenton, J (2012) The other side of soldier-journalism. [online] Available at: http://joeglenton.com/2012/10/14/the-other-side-of-soldier-journalism/.

Kelly, J. (2009) Red kayaks and hidden gold. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

Leveson, B. (2012) An inquiry into the culture, practices and ethics of the press. London: TSO.

Pewinternet.org (2006) Summary of Findings | Pew Internet & American Life Project. [online] Available at: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2006/Bloggers/01-Summary-of-Findings.aspx [Accessed: 13 May 2013].

Quinn, S. and Lamble, S. (2008) Online newsgathering. Amsterdam: Focal Press.

Rosenberry, J. and St. John, B. (2010) Public journalism 2.0. New York: Routledge.

Sambrook , R. (2005) Citizen journalism and the BBC . [online] Available at: http://convergencelab.ru/files/Nieman%20Report%20Citizen%20Journalism.pdf.

Sanford, B. (1999) Don’t shoot the messenger. New York: Free Press.

Shoemaker, P. (2001) 233. [online] Available at: http://www.aejmc.org/home/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Journalism-Mass-Communication-Quarterly-2001-Shoemaker-233-46.pdf [Accessed: 13 May 2013].

Singer, J. (2011) Participatory journalism. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell

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Mariam Mansour
London

Mariam is a 23 year old Journalism graduate and mediocre Starbucks Barista. A self-described hippy and a certified fangirl and weirdo. When she's not fangirling or attending comic cons or crying at the theatre, you'll find her reading or wondering aimlessly around London. Her mission in life is to encourage everyone she meets in her path to experience the joy she has upon reading books; to her, this can only be done by Breaking paperback Spines.

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