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What is Citizen Journalism?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 23, 2024
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Citizen journalism is a concept that advances the idea that consumers or everyday citizens take a more active role in the news. It is often referred to as the “new media” and includes everything from passionate letters to the editor and comments on blogs and news sites, to bloggers scooping stories or exposing doctored or omitted facts from mainstream media reports. Citizen journalism also points out bias by particular reporters or news outlets and attempts to give voice to the both sides on hot button issues.

Sometimes called grassroots journalism, this style of journalism is seen by some news outlets as a threat to journalistic integrity. Citizen journalists, however, believe that their methods hold news organizations to higher standards. While news organizations don’t really have a problem with citizen journalism when it’s a case of citizens bringing in useful footage they’ve personally captured, some may not always appreciate citizens offering a viewpoint.

Citizen journalism has been responsible for pictures and footage of things like celebrities or police officers behaving badly and crimes in progress. Citizens have also captured severe weather such as tornadoes and effects of hurricanes. The Kennedy assassination was captured on many personal movie cameras and still cameras, and since that time terrorist attacks, bombings, and accidents have also been covered by citizens as well.

Some journalists seem to feel threatened by citizen journalists, who have had no instruction in journalism and may not check facts. Many journalists have spent a lifetime, learning, working, and perfecting their craft. Critics of mainstream media outlets say that people are tired of slant, spin, and feeling like they’re being led in a particular direction by some news outlets. Instead, they say, the public wants to be given cold, hard facts and be allowed to make up their own minds. Citizen journalism offers another option.

There are also some news outlets that appreciate citizen journalism. User generated content can be a great resource for building website traffic. These outlets enjoy hearing from citizens and allow comments on their websites, letters to editors, and op eds. They encourage citizens to provide tips and footage. Sometimes, they even consult with citizens on stories, which is known as participatory journalism.

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Discussion Comments
By anon150709 — On Feb 08, 2011

The dire state of the news industry is the direct result of professional journalism. I'm embarrassed to read articles that some newspapers put out. They're either totally one sided, as are the editorials from the Philadelphia Inquirer, or the subjects written on are directed towards a select few, with very little relevance to the majority of news seekers.

The Inquirer is one of the largest newspapers in the u.s., and has recently gone into bankruptcy proceedings. I'm sure the crap writing their editors thought they could cram down the citizens of this city and suburbs had a big influence on its declining readership.

I see citizen "reporting", as the one doofus commentator would have it called, will be the saving of real journalism. You sure don't get it on the nightly news, either from the local or national outlets.

By dkarnowski — On Dec 03, 2010

I think that the key concept we need to remember when discussing citizen journalism, is that it has its both time and place. Obviously, large news corporations and major newspapers rarely have the kind of staff resources and number of reporters and photographers needed to cover small in individual events that people still want to read about.

A good example of this is a local soccer tournaments. Many people are curious about the local results of the soccer tournament but have no way of finding out other than through the people that were actually attending the event. This would be a prime example of how a citizen journalist could spread the results the tournament as well is even provide a few nice pictures. I think the key to using this information properly is making sure that when it is disseminated to buy what ever media form that the reader or viewer is aware of the fact that the information is coming from an untrained journalist or citizen journalist.

By making this distinction, viewers of the information can make their own judgment as to the validity of the facts. After all, the soccer games reported incorrectly, there is no detrimental effect other than some misinformation being spread. Usually the gossip around the stock groups would quickly change this misinformation and make it correct. If for instance we had a citizen journalist reporting on something important like a press conference from the president, the absolute accuracy of the facts being reported or critical, and not the proper place for citizen journalists to be reporting. This simple distinction is what needs to separate our use of citizen journalists and actual journalists.

By Ubiquitous — On Dec 02, 2010

I have to completely disagree with the previous commenter. In no way, shape or form is the average citizen capable of creating an objective and accurate report without some prior knowledge or training in the use of sources and information to create an article.

@youbikan is correct in that journalists spend years in school learning their trade and specifically in schools of journalism at universities and colleges. In the same manner that you would not want a doctor or scientist to have training in their specific field, it is imperative that journalists also have the proper education and training to complete the job that they are tasked with.

By having trained journalists doing the reporting and not supporting the so-called notion of citizen journalism, you are in effect, helping to ensure that the spread of truth and knowledge is done in a proper and accurate way. We wouldn't, after all, ask a normal citizen to go to a war zone and attempt to cover the actions and events that happen. Instead, we send a trained and experienced journalist to try and get the most accurate depiction of what is happening there.

While technology in journalism has allowed for the easier report to be filed, I think that it is important for us to remember as a society that the accurate reporting of information is critical to truth and honesty in our world. Please support actual journalism and their means of getting the proper facts to your eyes and ears. Without it, our world would be much more unjust.

By summertime — On Nov 30, 2010

I think that the reason so many journalists are worried about the rising of citizen journalism is that it means they will soon be out of a job. We all know how crappy newspapers are these days. I mean, just look at the quality of content that they are producing and the diminished levels of sales that they are seeing. Everyday it seems, we hear about another newspaper that is taking a fall into the world of bankruptcy and will crumble beneath the massive amount of information that citizens are getting from other and more reliable sources.

It also concerns me that so many people think that journalists are some kind of god send to this earth and provide us with truth and accuracy. I mean, how many times have you seen the reports of another reporter that is outed for having falsified a source or lied about a quote they used. How can we trust the things that they report if we hear of these mis-truths and other wrong doings on their part.

I personally think that it doesn't take much to write a report. I mean, you just get some sources and report what they say, you don't even have to draw conclusions like you might in a research paper. This just means that we should teach basic fact gathering and everyone can be a journalist. It makes sense to me and we could remove the fact that most reporters are just after sensationalism. I just know that right now when I open the pages of a paper to read over my coffee, I have to take everything I see with a huge grain of salt because, who knows if it is actually true or not. It's super lame, but, what do we do? Report ourselves. I personally support the uprising of citizen journalism news and we should absolutely use every bit that we can.

By youbiKan — On Nov 28, 2010

Citizen journalism and this so called effort to use the mass public as a means of reporting information is a very dangerous new trend that has the potential to degrade the value of journalistic efforts to the point to worthlessness. As a educated and trained reporter, I can tell you that there are serious issues when using information gathered by the average citizen compared to the reports of a real reporter.

Most people don't realize it but most journalists have completed a four-year degree and have been through the rigors of a serious news organization that allows them to be as objective is possible in the information that they bring to the general public.

Objectivity is key and without training and excersize in it's use, the average citizen can often misreport or even falsify information. The use of adjectives and improper sources will often lead to an article or report not giving truth and honesty it's proper due.

Please realize that citizen journalism probably has it's place and time in social networking but the concept itself should probably be renamed to something other then journalism. More like, citizen reports or something that doesn't taint the name of journalism as you can't call it that without the individuals performing having been educated and trained in the field. After all, you don't call your neighbor who offered to change your oil for cheap a real mechanic. Because the spread of information is so important, it is critical that the way we report it is accurate and objective as possible.

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