As we continue to experience the advent of digital communication — and in particular the continued proliferation of citizen journalism — there’s an interesting discussion to be had whether citizen journalism will eventually overtake traditional journalism, or rather the two will develop to a place where they co-exist harmoniously. There are likely positions in between those two extremes where we could also see the relationship develop between traditional and citizen journalism, however, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to discuss these two more defined positions.
Academic research on the topic seems to favour the position that citizen and traditional journalism both serve similar, and at the same time, unique, purposes that support their ability to evolve to a place to operate cohesively together. My own view on this topic reflects the research I conducted. Although, I posit aloud, perhaps that’s my own bias coming through the research I chose to reference. For the purposes of this relatively short blog, however, I won’t dive too deep into that, and will however, let the research speak for my position.
Barnes (2012) states that, “Blogs, forums, uploading of photographs or videos to the Internet, are now being labelled ‘citizen journalism’ as distinct from traditional, mainstream or professional journalism. The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional or formal training in journalism have an opportunity to use the tools of modern technology and the almost limitless reach of the Internet in order to create content that would otherwise not be revealed, as this kind of journalism goes far beyond the reach of professional journalism” (p. 16).
Research into both forms of journalism reveals that “both professional and citizen journalism have an effect on the political discourse, although the picture is complex” (Kaufhold, Valenzuela & de Zuniga, 2010, p. 522). “…News making, political consciousness, the media production process, consumption practices and the globalisation of information” are all impacted considerably by the evolution of citizen journalism (Mythen, 2010, p. 45). Like has never before been possible, citizen journalism through new media technologies connects individuals with “similar or alternative proclivities and interests across the globe” (Mythen, 2010, p. 48) and offers those people an avenue to disseminate and share news and information with one another — and others outside their circle as well.
We see citizen journalism also referred to as “alternative media,” where the media being collected and disseminated is considered more independent and wide ranging than traditional media (Barnes, 2012), which is often considered subjected to the gatekeeping practices of traditional media ownership.
“Mainstream journalism practices – shaped as they are by their host media institutions – have contributed to a broad disengagement of audiences with the political process,” argues Meadows (2013, p. 44), who also states that a sentiment now exists that “reporting news is too important to be left only to journalists” (p. 44).
Where the Internet has “become an established forum for interactive debate and discussion about the causes and consequences” (Mythen, 2010, p. 47), and a greater number of established media (e.g. CNN and the BBC) are integrating citizen journalism practices into their own broadcasts, citizen journalism is establishing its own credibility with broad audiences. In addition to supporting traditional journalism, citizen journalism practices are, “at times, fuelling the reportage in mainstream media” (Barnes, 2010, p. 25).
Audiences and two-way communication practices, I posit, are at the centre of the debate between citizen and traditional media. The lack of engagement in traditional or mainstream journalism is supporting the growth of citizen journalism and there is a belief that “independent community journalists are in an ideal position to offer audiences a real alternative by applying a more appropriate framework for making sense of the world” (Meadows, 2013, p. 55).
While citizen journalism offers a valuable increase in the opportunity for audience engagement and participation, traditional media are important to support political learning. “Those who consume news through professional news outlets—online and off—tended to score marginally higher in political knowledge than citizen journalism consumers. (Kaufhold, Valenzuela & de Zuniga, 2010, p. 522). Meadows (2013) also explains that citizen journalism us not without its own biases, and while “they have changed the way we communicate but on the whole seem more closely aligned with celebrity rather than citizenship” (p. 55).
An important system of checks and balances also generally exists in traditional media that is largely missing from citizen journalism. Individual biases have a greater ability to influence what’s been reported in citizen journalism without disclosure. “In traditional media organisations, editors impose regulations on data collection, media professionals double check facts and lawyers are employed to check whether stories are libelous. Given the roaming geography of user-generated content on the internet, inevitable problems arise around informational credibility and accreditation” (Mythen, 2010, p. 51).
In the Netflix series House of Cards (Fincher, 2013), there is an interesting look at the recentl evolution of political journalism in the series. A reporter is starting her career with a reputable and established newspaper in Washington, D.C., as she engages a source who affords her stories, her profile begins to rise at the newspaper. The report is a proponent of integrating new media communication practices into journalism. Running up against an “old-school” editor who favours traditional practices, she leaves the newspaper and joins a citizen-based political journalism website where she produces, edits and publishes her own stories. This practice of self-publishing, I posit, is an example of where the opportunity for reporting to open itself up to libel and inaccuracy, as suggested by Mythen (2010) exists.
Research on the topic (see Barnes, 2012; Kaufhold, Valenzuela & de Zuniga, 2010; and Mythen, 2010) largely suggests there are opportunities and challenges in both traditional and citizen0-based forms of journalism. There’s a benefit to the co-existence of both forms of journalism, as they both offer unique — and important — aspects to reporting the news.
Barnes, C. (2012). Citizen journalism vs. traditional journalism. Caribbean Quarterly, 58(2/3), 16-27.
Fincher, D. (2013). House of Cards (Television series). Los Gatos, California: Netflix.
Kaufhold, K., Valenzuela, S., & De Züniga, H. (2010). Citizen journalism and democracy: How user-generated news use relates to political knowledge and participation. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly,87(3/4), 515-529.
Meadows, M. (2013). Putting the citizen back into journalism. Journalism, 14(1), 43-60. doi:10.1177/1464884912442293
Mythen, G. (2010). Reframing risk? Citizen journalism and the transformation of news. Journal Of Risk Research, 13(1), 45-58. doi:10.1080/13669870903136159