Citizen Journalism and the Age of Misinformation

Citizen journalism has blossomed in an age of internet resources. Twitter, Facebook and news sites such as Now Public  enable anyone with a computer to become a journalist in its most basic terms. They report on events if they’ve witnessed them and they can upload photos of what they’ve seen and all this information is distributed around the public domain. However, I should make it clear that citizen journalism is not limited to the internet. In print publications, they rely on photographs and images, many of which are provided by citizen journalists.

Citizen journalism is a tricky subject of debate among journalist and academics. There are those who believe that their accounts lack credibility and that misinformation is too easily spread around the internet. As they are not journalists, they do not follow the journalistic codes and conduct however, it could be argued that citizen journalism is the frontier of news, especially with the rise of the internet. How far does citizen journalism stretch to news reporting? Does it infringe on the journalistic practices or is it an original source, providing information to the masses?

Scott Karp commented in 2007 that citizen journalism was essentially just journalism without the limits of traditional practices. He suggests that websites such as Now Public are just examples of the evolution of journalism rather than what the website refers to as “crowd power”, that the crowd reporting on the website is independent from traditional journalism. Karp has commented on the writers of the Now Public pages and suggests that it is just a reflection on how journalism practices have shifted in convergence culture. However, he still believes that we should recognise when people are reporting great journalism pieces and punish those reporting bad journalism pieces. He believes that the term “journalist” does not depend on where you work but what you do.

It’s not just social media but also personal web-pages including blogs, pod-casts and video sharing which has made citizen journalism an innovation in the journalism field. Highly successful blogs, including The Julie/Julia Project, Perez Hilton and Epic Fail Blog have become frontiers for their different types of media distribution and their voice and they could not have done it without the internet.

On one hand, citizen journalism is a positive aspect of the journalism field. There is something satisfying in knowing that the internet has given power to the ordinary people sat in their dwellings to report information on a subject they are passionate about. It is no longer reserved for the powerful media institutions and exclusive professional journalists.

However, there are some who believe that citizen journalism is damaging the field due to misinformation being spread around the internet, poor grammar and spelling and the lack of journalism practices being exercised and recognised.

I have used the example of the London Riots events before in this blog. The Guardian has made a visualisation of how events unfolded on twitter during the riots and how twitter was used to spread misinformation and rumours. However, there are more examples of misinformation being distributed around the internet. In February, 2012 twitter became an instigator in the rumour-mill when it was reported via the social media website that the late Kim Jong-il’s son Kim Jong-un was assassinated in Beijing. Unfortunately, celebrities and political figures are common targets when the social media untruthfully reports on deaths and the speed of information being distributed on twitter is not helping.

While the internet gives power to those who exercise citizen journalism properly, such as Julie Powell and Perez Hilton, it also gives power to those who do not think there are negative repercussions when they report misinformation or lies.

The internet is a wholly powerful and democratic resource. It can inform, inspire and entertain. It can also give others the opportunity to report on stories themselves and when they click ‘Publish‘, it is citizen journalism. However, there are several negatives to citizen journalism, such as the spread of misinformation and basic journalistic errors. It is really up to the individual if they agree or disagree with the power of citizen journalism but one thing is sure, it is an extension of journalism in the age of the internet and one which will keep growing as the web expands and expands.

3 Comments to “Citizen Journalism and the Age of Misinformation”

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