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Is Citizen Journalism Good For News Media? - Facts & Infographic

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Citizen Journalism

"Pretty much everyone now has the means to report what is going on in the world around them...Consequently citizen journalists – ordinary people doing the job of reporters – are everywhere." - Chris Measures in Social Media Today

Also known as - "open source journalism", "distributed journalism", "public journalism", "participatory journalism", "democratic journalism", "guerrilla journalism", "street journalism", "user-generated content”, “grassroots journalism”

With the stupendous growth of blogs, social media sites, and innumerable other windows of expression, people across the world have started to report news even as it unfolds. A decline in trust and the accessibility of traditional news sources together with the need for personalized, unbiased, and immediate coverage prompted the growth of citizen journalism. The catalyst has been the boom in handheld devices and smartphones. Apple's latest, the iPhone 5, sold 5 million units in its opening weekend alone and 47.8 million in the first quarter of its release. Samsung sold 20 million units of its Galaxy S4 smartphone in the first 60 days. In 2012 there were about 1.1 billion smartphone subscribers. The high resolution cameras, quick internet access, constant connectivity to social media sites have spurred a new generation of citizen journalists who feel inspired to click, write, record, and share all the noteworthy events that they witness or experience.

Blogging has also given birth to a new generation of citizen journalists. The freedom of expression on the Internet, the anonymity, and the chance of quick fame has provided Internet users a hitherto unavailable resource to express their views and report their experienc.In 2012, there were about 59.4 million WordPress sites across the world. WordPress-hosted webpages received 3.5 billion views in all.

The rise of citizen journalism also became a part of the popular stand against state or corporation owned media in many parts of the world.

Trusted News Sources

According to the Third Annual Social Media News Survey, conducted by TEKGROUP International in 2012, almost about 90% respondents name Facebook and 70% Twitter as their primary source of news and information. This is almost twice the number of respondents who name the Wall Street Journal and well over those who named CNN. 28% of respondents receive all their news from social media. This shows the dramatic shift in trusted news sources and the boom in the role of citizen journalism.

Coming from the Middle East, the ASDA'A Burson-Marsteller's 5th Annual Arab Youth Survey 2013 clearly shows why citizen journalism is coming into sharp focus in the region. According to the survey consumption of newspapers, radio, and magazines among the Middle East youth has shown a stunning 50% drop since 2011. 50% get their daily updates on news and current affairs through social media and through other online sources. When asked, “In your opinion what is the most trusted source of news?” 48% of 3,000 survey respondents said websites (26%) and social media (22%). This is a remarkable growth from a combined response of 27% in 2012. 42% young Arabs read News and Current Affairs blogs and 22% read blogs about politics establishing citizen journalism as the more trusted news source. Facebook is the third most popular news source in the Arab world according to according to a survey published by Northwestern University in Qatar in June 2013.

The boost to citizen journalism also comes as a direct result of a decline in confidence in traditional media. According to a July 2012 Gallup poll, 21% of American adults expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in television news. This is a dramatic fall from 1994, when 46% respondents said they had a lot of confidence in television news. Similarly the trust of Americans in newspapers fell from 51% in 1979 to 23% in 2013. Another Gallup poll in September 2012 reported that only about 40% American adults reported to have confidence in traditional media sources such as television, newspapers, and radio while about 60% did not have much confidence in these. Over 20% of Americans rely on social media and other websites as their main news source.

According to a December 2012 Gallup poll, confidence of Britons in their media plunged in 2012, to an all-time low. Only 33% Britons said that they have confidence in the quality and integrity of their media. This is a decline from 41% such responses in 2007. About 66% Britons now say that they have no confidence in traditional media sources. Citizen journalism is the alternative Britons are turning to for news, views, and current affairs updates.

According to a 2012 survey, The Influence Game: How News Is Sourced And Managed Today by Oriella PR Network, over 62% journalists from North America claim to draw news ideas and news from trusted sources on Facebook and Twitter. 64% look towards blogs to draw inspiration for their next stories.

Breaking News On Twitter

"The evening news has become men in suits and women in pearls reading Twitter to your grandparents. Twitter is faster than print media, more in-depth than television, and compared to the traditional newswire, it's real time reaction to events news and headlines." - Josh Brown (Owns one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2013 by Time Magazine)

Stories First Reported On Twitter

New York Plane Crash (January 2009) – Onlooker Jim Hanrahan first reported the news of the US Airways Flight 1549 crash into the Hudson River along with some of the earliest images of the incident on Twitter.

Britain Earthquake (February 2008) – The first reports of the 5.2 magnitude earthquake that hit the north of England were provided by tweeps who logged in to exchange news and to report on damages.

Google Nexus One from San Francisco (December 2008) – Cory O’Brien, a San Francisco Twitter user was the first to leak the images of Google Nexus One before the smartphone was released by the Android and search giant.

Osama Bin Laden’s Death in Abbottabad (May 2011) - Even as the Navy SEAL raid at Abbottabad was on, a Twitter user had tweeted “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event);”. Before the White house could make an official announcement. Keith Urbahn, chief of staff for former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted, “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

Boston Marathon Explosions (April 2013) – A number of witnesses present at the Boston Marathon reported the explosions and uploaded pictures on Twitter long before any other news source filed a report. Twitter was used by many to exchange news of safety and find friends and loved ones.

Protests And Political Outrages

The role of citizen journalism becomes especially highlighted during protests and political outrages. While armchair outrages do form a major part of the citizen journalism forums, the role of social media and blogs in many political protests over the past years has been immense.

Arab Spring – According to a BBC report in December 2011 "From Tahrir Square to the scene of John Galliano's racist rants, pictures and videos from the public have been increasingly used in media coverage". In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and other countries, the contributions of witnesses and participants towards reporting the Arab Spring uprising has been significant.

Occupy Wall Street – "Since Occupy Wall Street began four weeks ago in New York City, the group has inspired protests in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Chicago and many places in between. Aside from the theme of income inequality, the protests have a common thread in that they are well documented by the citizen journalists observing or participating in their home cities." - Huffington Post. American nationals across the country went out to record on their blogs and cameras the protests against joblessness and other common issues.

Turkey 2013 – In June 2013 when violent outbreaks were reported in over 60 Turkish cities, mainstream media had no clue what the protests were about. The deeper vein of dissatisfaction was revealed by blogs, open letters, videos, and pictures published by citizen journalists.

Brazil 2013 – Social media and popular citizen journalism sites such as GlobalVoices played an important role in the V for Vinegar Movement of 2013. The demonstrations were ongoing as of July 2013 and were marked as protests against increases in prices and police brutality.

Towards Citizen Journalism – Key Blogs

War: Where is Raed? – One of the earliest personal blogs to evolve into a citizen journalism news source in 2003 with the war in Iraq in full steam. On-the-ground reports, inside views, and experiences from the blog opened Iraq up to the world making it a preferred site over traditional media sources.

Groundviews – This forum became the voice of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans to report personal experiences and provide a direct outlet to voices that were hitherto unheard. The site states its vision as "To demonstrate, by example, that citizen journalism can enable civil, progressive and inclusive discussions on democracy, rights, governance and peace in Sri Lanka."

Citizens’ Eye – Pakistani national Mudassar Khan founded this site as a means for people in various countries to report grassroots news as opposed to the “helicopter journalism” of traditional media. Now with Pakistan, India, Iraq, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, and UK chapters in place, the site is a forceful factor in citizen journalism in these countries.

Legacy.Ushahidi – The aftermath of the 2007-2008 Kenyan crisis led the open-source software developer Ushahidi to create this site where eyewitness reports of violence were published and mapped. The site became an important news forum.

Citizen Journalism Rumors And Inaccuracies 2012

"If we've learned anything about social media over the past few years, it's that things can go viral fast. So fast, in fact, users often get swept away in sharing news and don't double-check if what they're spreading even checks out" - Samantha Murphy

Fake Images of Hurricane Sandy – While the hurricane itself did cause some serious damage, fake images of the approaching storm caused much panic as citizen journalists shared and retweeted what turned out to be photoshopped images.

#BaldforBieber – Hundreds of fans went bald following a fake report of Justin Bieber having shaved his head following cancer detection. #BaldforBieber became a major Twitter trend in the US and the YouTube video with the fake news went viral.

RIP Morgan Freeman – A fake report of actor Morgan Freeman’s passing went viral through Facebook. A page dedicated to him as a tribute by his fans accrued over a million Likes within a short while.

Facebook Shutting Down – News of the social media giant shutting shop on March 15 was shared extensively across the Internet. The rumor was debunked by official Facebook spokesperson but had spread much by then.

Kara Alongi Kidnapping – 16-year-old New Jersey girl Kara Alongi reported her own kidnapping on Twitter. Over 3,400 people retweeted her call for help. The tweet seemed to be a fake call and Alongi was found safe by the police to the outrage of thousands who were worried.


Pros And Cons



Citizen journalism breaks down the "us and them" dichotomies and reporting is closer to reality.

Citizen journalism has a greater error margin with factual inaccuracies diluting reporting standards.

Supplements mainstream media by providing instant/real-time coverage.

Lacks objectivity and journalistic ethics leading to biased news reporting.

Links dissociated people across geographies to create a cohesive forum.

Could lead to riots and harm public health due to lack of editorial controls.

Ability to reach areas/situations where regular journalists are prohibited or simply unavailable.

Sensationalism and rumors are inevitable with false reports often going viral.

Outreach and ease of availability are clear advantages of citizen-reported news.

Citizen journalists could compromise security and add to risks of putting others at harm.



Changing Media

Traditional news sources that have included Citizen journalism as part of their ecosystem. A number of media houses have separate blogs, opened up to comments, and run special editions to allow for readers to report in. These allow readers to contribute news, images, and videos. These include :


ABC: i-Caught

Al Jazeera: Your Media

Broadcast Interactive Media: YouNews

CNN: iReport

Fox: uReport

MSNBC: FirstPerson


A number of mobile applications these days also facilitate citizen journalism –



360 News



In these early days of citizen journalism — especially in the U.S. — publishers seem skittish about this combining of pro and amateur/citizen content. They’re more likely to wall off citizen submissions, as though they shouldn’t “contaminate” the work of the professionals. I suspect that that attitude will wear off in time, and that this complementary approach will bring professional and citizen closer together — to the ultimate benefit of the audience.” – Steve Outing, The 11 Layers of Citizen Journalism


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Is Citizen Journalism Good For News Media.

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