Remember hearing about the revolution in Egypt last year? And more importantly, do you remember how you heard about it?
Those involved in the revolution captured the protests through their phones and shared their personal accounts using Facebook, Twitter and blogs, which were then spread throughout the interweb within seconds across the globe. Without sharing their stories across the internet, I’m baffled to see any other way we would have known what was truly going on. This kind of user generated content is called citizen journalism, and is fast becoming a dominating process of sharing news.
The image below I gathered from the Twitter account of activist and blogger @Gsquare86, from the ongoing trouble in Egypt. This is a perfect example of user generated content enabling a story to reach the world.
Issues that are brought up by civilian journalists, are then caught on by the mass media (and other civilian journalists), which allows for the story to spread and gain a wider perspective. The clip below of police abusing their power, was captured by a civilian. It then spread to civilian journalism site The Huffington Post and then onto the mass media, such as TIME magazine.
What separates citizen journalism from the mass media is that it is created by citizens playing an active role in news, and is produced through many different platforms. Most citizens aren’t paid; they are often anonymous (especially in places of unrest) and they connect horizontally with their audience. Some catch news by chance, others consider themselves to be activists and pursue the stories they have a personal connection with.
Where citizen journalism can be considered better than professional journalism, is its ability to bring about a broader viewpoint through crowdsourcing and its ability to cover things the mass media can’t access, or choose not to show. This is perhaps the most powerful part of citizen journalism. Some things would never be made aware of if citizens hadn’t brought public attention to them.
While there are many great things about user generated content, there are also risks. One problem is that without proper training, citizen journalists can produce biased stories. Another is that unlike professional journalists, they are not protected by law. This is particularly risky for civilians reporting in dangerous areas.
But despite these risks, citizen journalism is increasingly on the rise. Professional media outlets and journalists are already beginning to incorporate this form of media coverage through live twitter feeds and by allowing open discussion on their news. The Stream, for example, is a great incorporation of mass media and citizen journalism. It combines professional journalists from Aljazeera and user generated content to share a wide range stories to the globe through social media outlets and mass media outlets.
Those in the mass media who are less open towards citizen journalism are simply going to fall behind, as the mobility and simplicity of technology allows for more and more user generated content to play a role in sharing news. As Helen Boaden, BBC Head of News stated, “someone out there will always know more about a story than we do”. By looking at the way things are going, the revolution that is citizen journalism will continue to widen our perspective, retain an active audience and publicize stories that the mass media fail to transmit.