The Rise of Citizen Journalism
“We are at the beginning of a Golden Age of journalism – but it is not journalism as we have known it. Media futurists have predicted that by 2021, citizens will produce about 50 percent of the news peer-to-peer. However, news media have yet to yet meaningfully adopt or experiment with these new forms”
Participatory Journalism, a sub-genre of Citizen Media, began in North America as a reaction against the eroding trust of traditional media, politics and civic affairs. However there were two pivotal events, which helped shape the form of civic journalism that we see today:
The first event was the 1988 U.S election with Bush Sr. and Dukakis as forerunners. Studies during that time indicated a significant drop in voter participation, a decline in newspaper readership and an erosion of public engagement in civic life. A 1994 Times Mirror poll indicated 71 percent of Americans believed the news media hindered efforts to solve society’s problems. Overall, journalists and scholars believed not only journalism but also democracy was threatened. Professional journalists at that time began to encourage public participation in some of their news coverage although it was often relegated to special news reports which were often time consuming and costly. But it wasn’t until 1999 when citizen journalism came to the mainstream. “Anarchists” protesting the WTO conference in Seattle decided to start an Independent Media Center (IMC) as they believed that their portrayal in the event by mass media would be biased. They decided to start outputting their own coverage of the event. Since 1999, 200 cities have started up IMCs throughout the US in an effort to inform the public regarding social issues from an independent perspective.
A wave of new mobile user-friendly video and Internet technology has fueled the creation and method of disseminating civic journalism over the past 60 years so that now almost anyone can produce their own content. As early as 1948, Norbert Wiener invented Cybernetics, inspiring a generation of scientists to think of computer technology as a means of expanding human capabilities. By 1964 Marshal McLuhan foresaw the Global Village and began to consider its social effects. In the last decade, as the practice of civic journalism has evolved, issues of authorship, credibility and trust have arisen. In an online environment, where anyone can contribute content despite trust metrics established by that community, the measure of unbiased journalism is in question more than ever. However, participatory journalism is not just a trend but to some, is the answer to a truly democratic press. Even though this idea is generally dismissed by some mainstream media outlets and “professional” journalists, there is an ever growing number of news outlets that are accepting Indy journalism and believe that cooperation between the two camps can result in a higher level of engagement with the audience, who are now more than just the audience but actual co-creators. John Hiler from MicroContent News describes this as an emerging media ecosystem. This emerging system is the basis for a project called “Beat Blogging” coming out of PressThink, an advocacy group that supports citizen journalism as serious journalism. The founder of PressThink, Jay Rosen asks, “Can reporters bring knowledge, contacts and interests of many different people from around the beat into the production of news, views and information for the beat, by making use of social networking tools that lower the cost of collaboration? Is it viable for dispersed groups to become an editorial force?” With over 70 percent of adult Americans using the Internet and 97 million of them going online for up-to-date news, the answer is yes.
Although the environment of newsgathering and dissemination is changing from hard copy to virtual copy and the methods of creation are becoming more collaborative, the principles behind journalism should remain the same – to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires. It will take all of us – lawmakers, advocacy and watchdog groups, mainstream and independent news creators and audiences to ensure that this happens, which ultimately is what participatory journalism is all about.
Hiler, John. Microcontent News. “Blogosphere: the emerging Media Ecosytem.” http://www.hypergene.net/wemedia/weblog.php