Dear Citizens, please help journalists do their jobs

 “When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism”

Jay Rosen


Citizen Journalism has become a topic of discussion that has practitioners in the field re-thinking their position and re-evaluating the definition of today’s journalism.

In the article “Preditors”: Making Citizen Journalism Work published in 2008, the authors Wilson,  Saunders  and Bruns , point out that with the emergence of citizen journalism, established news organizations have successfully worked with users to generate content.


With more than 1.08 billion smartphone users in the world individuals have in their pockets an incredibly powerful tool for news making. Owning a smartphone plus being in the right place and the right time can make a common citizen into a journalist that can capture news as they happen.

The convenience of having 24-7 journalists in every corner of the world is of great advantage for news companies. An example of this put to practice is the “Guardian Witness” program launched by The Guardian on April this year. The program, invites users to download an application on their smartphones or access it or their computers and upload videos, stories, photos and contribute to news making.

Another example of participatory or citizen journalism is CNN iReport which also encourages CNN’s audience to participate and generate news that if approved can become a part of CNN coverage.

The fact that user-content is being published and that citizens have legitimate channels to publish information has made the news business gain a bigger audience, more coverage and ultimately, made the journalism industry of greater importance to the general public.

As we discussed in last week’s lecture, the main formats of participatory journalism include polls, message boards, comments on news stories, blogs and now social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Social media

It is a fact that individuals that had no relation to journalism and absolutely no interest in publishing and reporting have now become key elements in news making.

With technology as the main tool people can now report breaking news often faster than official media. We see examples of participatory journalism all the time particularly when it comes to accidents, natural disaster and unexpected terrorism.

Last week I was going through my Facebook Newsfeed and I saw someone update their status to “I am currently in my house northeast of Bogota and something just sounded like a bomb does anyone know what happened?” not even two minutes had past when another user replied “It was not a bomb, I’m next to the accident is located in Tenjo, is 30 minutes away from your house and it was a mine explosion caused by an accident, ambulances are already on their way.” In the next hour Facebook users had built the whole story and knew every single detail of it before the nation’s main newspaper could publish the accident on its webpage and social media accounts.

Citizen Journalism occurs almost everyday somewhere in the world and when it comes to major disasters or accidents it becomes a very useful tool for the media as well as the general public. Let’s take for example the plane that landed on the Hudson River in 2009 where basically anyone with a view of the river and a phone reported the accident immediately. Even tough this was four years ago, the coverage given to the accident via Twitter was efficient, instantaneous and well managed by the audience.

“My brother just saw the US Airways #flight1549 slowly land in the Hudson river from his office in 35th floor in Times Square,” said user “gregheadz,” using the Twitter hash code to add the message to a group. 

The plane

Social media and specifically Twitter has become one of the most frequent channels for citizen journalists changing the way news are produced.  The following is a TEDx Talk by Paul Lewis that discusses how citizen journalism has helped him as a professional journalist to uncover stories and reveal the truth to the public.

Despite the negative implications that citizen journalism brings to the profession such as inaccurate information, unverifiable sources, poor writing skills and low resolution audio visual aids, this form of participatory journalism, in my opinion, is very helpful for professionals working as journalists. As I see it, citizen journalism allows big news companies to have worldwide coverage almost every minute of the day. With technology, smartphones, Internet and Social Media there is always someone watching. (That last phrase sounds paranoid but I find it to be true).

If you wonder what citizen journalism has achieved and contributed to relevant news stories and good journalism, the following links provide you with good examples:

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