The tools of a reporter are in our pockets most of the time – whether we realise it or not. No journalism training required; all that’s needed is an eye for a story and a mobile phone. In this digital age stories can be reported, recorded and uploaded to the web within a matter of seconds. The consequence is that amateur footage can look raw and wayward compared to that of a professional journalist – but maybe this fresh way of consuming news is what gives it the appeal.
Through the access that citizen journalists have achieve the media has access to places that would have otherwise been left untouched. However, this freedom is tainted by tragedy. At least 30 journalists and citizen journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the uprising in the country in May 2011. In Syria’s case even the slightest amount of people power carries risk.
Closer to home citizen journalism can be a tool used to tell the stories of the disadvantaged or those who feel ignored by other forms of media outlets. A large enough majority of people in Scotland felt cut off by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and they wanted to do something about it.
The Citizen Relay website tracked the torch’s journey across Scotland. Paul Bradshaw used his skills in data journalism to get the stories of the torch bearers heard. Using a data scraper he was able to obtain details of around 6,000 torch bearers and patterns began to emerge indicating that something wasn’t right. Looking meticulously at data in this way showed that six torch bearers shared the same ‘inspirational’ story. The data could then be tracked and it became apparent that, other than celebrities and sports people, a lot of the torch bearers were connected to corporate sponsors. More anomalies were uncovered once Paul used data verification to find out who was who.
Being at the heart of the news provides an excellent opportunity for wider public awareness but the very nature of this form of journalism is unregulated so it has the possibly to contain a reporter’s subjective view. I’m not sure this matters though, as long as the audience is clear where the citizen journalists’ work has come from or the motives behind it. This is especially true if this type of news is consumed alongside ‘traditional media’ – otherwise it’s propaganda. Key journalistic skills of accuracy and clarity apply for this type of media to be considered trustworthy by those who consume it.
Citizen journalism can create a voice for communities who would find it hard to attract the attention of the media, by creating their own outlets. Community radio is thriving with radio stations sharing the airwaves alongside BBC and commercial stations. Radio Regen, based in Manchester, is a community media association that offers training and education to give people their first foothold in radio. Also, The Institute of Community Reporters has been set up by People’s Voice Media, who are based in Salford. They offer their own multi-platform tailored training and web space for their reporters to see their work published by opening the channels of communication through social media.
A range of choices which embrace technological environments adds even more colour to our media landscape. The rise of citizen journalism means that the voice of the people is louder than ever before.
This article first appeared on the UK Journalism Review website.