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Ushering in a New Era with Citizen Journalism

Tejas Dinkar

Quintype

Tejas Dinkar

In 1996, Bloomberg called the internet “The Great Equalizer”, as they saw the potential of anyone with an internet connection to have access to a massive amount of content. Fast forward 10 years, and suddenly it’s just as easy to put content out as it is to consume it. The ability to broadcast one’s message, once a luxury of those with capital or political influence, is now something that anyone can do with just a phone, while waiting for their morning coffee. Pictures and Videos, which earlier needed massive processing and resources to share, could suddenly be uploaded in minutes, or even streamed live.

Bloggers and other netizens quickly realized that with this new power came a responsibility: To report on stories that are happening around them; stories that wouldn’t be told by traditional media. Maybe the story is too small, and no large publication would pick it up. Maybe the story would be buried by unfree media. And maybe by the time the traditional journalists arrived at the scene, the story would be over. And yet, the story had to be told.

Also known as ‘democratic journalism’, citizen journalism is bringing to the fore grassroot realities and issues that might have been overlooked by mainstream media. An array of new perspectives are emerging online, which strengthen stories with nuanced information. In India, it has empowered groups, like the tribal and rural communities, by allowing them to voice their truth. This form of journalism, thus, has not only been supplementing, but has also been filling gaps in mainstream media.

Rationale behind its popularity

Events like Arab Spring, 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks, Iran protests, crashing of US Airways jetliner into New York's Hudson River are some of the events that shook the 21st century. Though these events took place in countries spread across the world, they share a common factor: news of these events broke on Twitter within minutes of them taking place.

Ushering in a New Era with Citizen Journalism
Image source: https://www.slideshare.net/MiaBernier/social-media-and-arab-spring

Anyone with a smartphone and a data connection can now report on-ground events in real time and share opinions on events or issues they consider important. Realizing this, journalists are scouring trending hashtags on Twitter to look for news stories and to gauge public sentiment. It is no surprise that Twitter has been termed “the CNN of the new media generation.”

How citizen journalism benefits publishers

This shift in information sourcing and distribution has not gone unnoticed by mainstream media. They are now experimenting with adapting citizen journalism to their existing working models. Media experts have been debating on whether the crowd sourcing of news will simply make traditional journalism redundant. Now, in many ways, traditional media still holds the upper hand. They are more credible, have access to niche sources and employ highly trained professionals. With a little bit of foresight, citizen journalism can be used to augment traditional journalism.

We are witnessing the emergence of a hybrid model of journalism which combines the credibility of traditional media and the democratic nature of citizen journalism. As citizen journalists can report live from the scene of action, this can help organizations to break news faster. These citizen reports can be incorporated into mainstream news articles after being screened and verified by professional journalists. To ensure better quality of citizen reports, some news agencies like Al Jazeera are planning training programs for citizen journalists. Citizen Matters, a digital news agency, combines elements of professional and citizen journalism in their working model. They provide a detailed citizen reporter guide on their website, which all their contributors have to adhere to.

One of the most popular sections on The Quint’s news website is My Report, their citizen journalism initiative, where citizens can report on issues which affect them directly. Contributions in the form of articles, videos, photographs and audios on important issues are accepted. Their team of experienced journalists scan through the submissions thoroughly and verify the information quoted.

Ushering in a New Era with Citizen Journalism

Another way to encourage audience participation is to enable comments on news reports. Commenters can add on to the main report with real time updates. Comment sections also allow for a multitude of opinions to co-exist hence amplifying the report with many perspectives. This not only adds value to the original report but will also improve the overall ranking of your content as having relevant comments on your posts will help you get more organic traffic.

Hence by blending elements of both citizen journalism and mainstream journalism, superior content strategies can be designed which not only provide a well-rounded and cohesive perspective to audiences but also ensure a more democratic news coverage.