Introduction of Citizen Journalism
The popularity of the Internet in the 21st century has led to a shift in journalism. Traditional journalism typically involved well-written journalists competing for the limited amount of positions at mainstream news outlets. However, with the introduction of the Internet, journalism has now evolved to increasingly include citizen journalists, or “public citizens playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information” (Mashable). Those who were usually considered the audience of journalistic works are now becoming the journalists themselves. With technology making it more convenient than ever, citizen journalism is bound to stick around for a long time.
Mixed Reactions to Citizen Journalism
This change however, has resulted in mixed reactions. Some advocators of the new form that journalism has taken on believe that it allows for a far more diverse detailing of topics. The community of the Internet allows for ideas, big and small, to be heard by a much larger audience. If a reader does not agree with one journalist’s opinion, they are able to speak up about it by writing their own post using digital media tools. Digital media tools include “audience participation (such as user comments attached to news stories, personal blogs, photographs or video footage captured from personal mobile cameras, or local news written by residents of a community) at mainstream news outlets, independent news and information Websites, full-fledged participatory news sites, collaborative and contributory media sites, Other kinds of “thin media” (mailing lists, email newsletters), and personal broadcasting sites” (Lasica). They are transformed from the public audience to the informer.
However, not everyone believes that this new type of journalism that has arisen is so great. Critics of citizen journalism, or participatory journalism as it is sometimes called, argue that these types of journalists are often times uninformed, bias, unpredictable, and lack proper writing skills. Those who wish to participate in citizen journalism are often times able to post whatever they want, without having to be approved by someone higher up. This uncertainty of the quality and reliability of their work is part of what leaves so many critics skeptical of participatory journalism.
Publish, Then Filter
Often times, “participatory journalism uses a “publish, then filter” model instead of the traditional “filter, then publish” model” (Bowman, Willis). This aspect of citizen journalism is seen as both a positive and negative characteristic. Columnist J.D. Lasica argues,
“Perhaps the chief appeal and attraction of weblogs are their free-form, unfiltered nature. You get to hear people in their natural dialect, writing from their gut with a voice and tone that too often can be filtered into a homogenous blandness after passing through the typical newsroom’s editing machine. A lightly edited, hands-off weblog would show journalists as human beings with opinions, emotions and personal lives.”
Lasica believes that this “publish, then filter” model allows for a more genuine form of journalism. However, not everyone agrees with Lasica. Some believe that this “publish, then filter” model leads to poorly executed writing.
Citizen Journalim Outlets are giving the traditional mainstream news outlets a run for their money. Regardless of whether you believe citizen journalism is a valuable or unreliable source of information, it is worth exploring BuzzFeed, a citizen journalism outlet, to better understand the arguments that have been made in favor of each side.
A Look At BuzzFeed To Better Understand Citizen Journalism
One popular platform where the public is welcome to utilize digital media tools to create posts is BuzzFeed. The site “produces an average of 378 posts a day featuring the work of staff reporters, contributors, syndicated cartoon artists, and Community” (Wikipedia). Buzzfeed encourages the general public Internet-users to contribute to their site.
BuzzFeed began as an entertainment site that tended to feature comedic and interesting posts about rather insignificant information. Now, they have added a more serious news section, covering information from around the world. However, these news posts are not always presented in the most educated manner. For example, a BuzzFeed post titled “Obama Asks The Hill To Bomb Syria, As Explained By ‘The Hills’,” uses gifs from the popular MTV show “The Hills” to explain Obama’s decision to bomb Syria
This type of post can be viewed as either completely ridiculous or completely genius. Opponents of the post would argue that the post mocks at the seriousness of the situation, while proponents of the post would argue that it presents the serious situation in a way that is more likely to be digested by readers than a bland 1,000-word article describing the event. Our culture is evolving into one which news is more likely to be read if it presented using creative digital media tools, rather than a dull essay. BuzzFeed contributors take advantage of this new trend towards digital media to attract viewers.
Nick Denton, founder of Gawker media, does not appreciate BuzzFeed’s value as a reliable news source. Denton claims that BuzzFeed approaches its stories as click bait. He believes BuzzFeed is more concerned with increasing traffic to the site than producing quality and valuable news stories. For Denton, and many other critics, this ulterior motive creates an unpredictable outlet for citizen journalists to be contributing to. Because of issues like such, many traditional news journalists prefer the original ways of journalism to the new citizen journalistic ways, which can at times be unpredictable and problematic for a number of different reasons.
Lindsay Wheeler, a staff writer for NewsCred, argues that BuzzFeed provides a great platform for citizens to publish what they consider to be significant. Wheeler states,
“BuzzFeed simply recognizes the importance of understanding new media and the way to engage readers in the 21st century.”
Yes, the way that they present their news may not fit the traditional standards, but that does not make it intrinsically less valuable than traditional news sites.
Citizen Journalism Here To Stay
Whether one believes that citizen journalism is valuable or destructive, one thing is certain- it is here to stay. Opportunities for ordinary people to participate in journalism will not be ending anytime soon. Technology has made it increasingly accessible for ordinary citizens to engage with the public, and they will continue to take advantage of the chances they have to be heard about topics they find to be noteworthy.