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The Impact of Citizen Journalism

Introduction

Citizen Journalism is defined as “the collection, dissemination, and analysis of news by the public, by means of cell phones, digital cameras, blogs, etc.” Basically in simple terms it is the involvement of non-professionals in the reporting of news, especially through social media, blogs and other websites.

The fact is that more people with the ability to capture live footage, whether on their cell phones or camcorders brings news to the forefront that might not have done so before. Throughout the world people use the affordances that different social sites like Twitter, and Facebook give them. This and advancements in technology help give people the opportunity to capture things that once would go undocumented or unseen.

Examples of Citizen Journalism

Recently one of the trending videos on Youtube (Another site used by citizen journalists to broadcast what they have to the world and any interested individual) was a civilian cargo plane at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. 

This video was taken by the camera inside a United States Military humvee, although the driver was not purposely filming this event it still is an example of journalism. This soldier, being in the spot he was at the time is the reason why this video was able to be captured. It is disturbing to watch because people ultimately were killed in the crash, however it just shows how a plane crash in Afghanistan can affect people across the world. It is also almost guaranteed that this crash, if it was not recorded, would never have made any news on TV. However because it is visual it likely did, but because of sites like Youtube and the fact that the humvee had a camera, this being on TV news or not didn’t matter.

September 11, 2001

Social media gets to much credit for giving people the ability to basically be citizen journalists. Even before social media people had the technology to do what even the best journalists could not, get first hand accounts of whatever had taken place. During the September 11 attacks in New York the cable news networks (non-cable networks were down in the New York area since they used the Twin Towers) did not truly know what had taken place at the time. However because of on-lookers, or people living in that area of Manhattan footage was coming in of the attacks and other horrific scenes that followed. Now most of this can be found on Youtube, as it is an archive of these types of videos, but at the time it was citizens providing the actual footage of planes flying into the buildings, whether it be from the window of their apartment or the street below.

This video is also hard to watch, especially as a native New Yorker the memories of this day are still haunting when images or video like this are shown. However what this does is shows how even twelve years ago people were using what they had to report or inform others as to what they had seen or captured.

The Boston Bombings

During the Boston Bombings cable news or mainstream news was basically all over the map. They could never get their facts correct and numerous times got things very wrong. Whether it was the fact that they could not find things to talk about or simply because they were scared to report new evidence or wrongly identity individuals involved (This did not stop Jon Stewart from poking fun at the likes of CNN for their reporting). The question remains did citizen journalists get it right, or did the likes of social media ultimately fail in many ways as well. Twitter especially was very useful during the Boston Marathon Bombings, and the manhunt which took place three days later. People in the area of Boston were tweeting images of the SWAT teams and FBI that were on the ground in. ImageThis image was taken by a person in Boston, clearly showing two military personnel on the roof of a small shed in a random houses backyard. This image ultimately got retweeted by thousands and picked up by many news organizations. What this image did that was great was it informed the public that there were people there to protect them, and showed how drastic measures were that were taken at the time to ensure safety. It is very possible that others in the surrounding areas of Boston had similar experiences or learned through Twitter and Facebook that they were being protected.

With Power Comes Great Responsibility

We now have the power and the ability to all be citizen journalists which in many ways is a great thing. More people can be informed about what is happening throughout their city, county, state, country, and world. However because everyone has a voice or a chance to share this creates problems and wrong-doings. For instance during the Boston Marathon Bombings and the days ensuing, many were trying to figure out who the two men in the images released by the FBI were. The site Reddit
reddit_logo
took it upon themselves to identify at least one of the suspects. It came out that the one in the white hat was no other than Sunil Tripathi, a Brown University student who had gone missing in late March this year. As we now know Sunil was not apart of the Boston Marathon Bombings and has since been confirmed dead by his family. What this shows is the power that social sites and we as individuals have to create news and news stories. Yes citizen journalism is a good thing, however when this is the consequence it is impossible not to cringe. A grieving family, wishing to find their young son, sent through hell and back already as searches had previously came back without any results was sent through hell again by the Reddit community. One can not even begin to fathom the pain, and suffering a family goes through losing their son, but then to hear that their son is a mastermind behind a terrorist attack can not be put into words. For all the good citizens do through their journalistic manors in ways to inform the public, this type of story clearly shows why ethics are needed and why everyone having a voice can lead to this type of occurrence.

Ethics of Citzen Journalism

1. Avoid exaggeration and choose your words wisely.

2. Leave your opinions aside

3. Be careful when using quotes

4. Identifying sources and building relationships

5. Copyright, attribution, and plagiarism.

6. Fact checking and researching

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