Tehmina Qureshi unveils the concept of citizen journalism and the way it is used.
|When the public plays an active role in gathering, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information, it is known as citizen journalism. The dividing line is that common people with no journalistic background take upon themselves to disseminate news. Citizen journalism has always existed in one form or another. An example from history is the Renaissance and birth of Protestantism, when literature became popular among the people and it became easier for the people to promulgate content through the printing press. Citizen journalism in modern times became evident when in 1999 protesters in Seattle blocked streets in response to a WTO summit. They felt the need to do so because that was the only way they could find some space in the media. The protest gave birth to independent media centres that have now sprouted in more than 200 cities around the world.
The emerging media and the popularity of the internet has tended to encourage journalism “by the people” and has spread like a forest fire. Blogs, chat rooms, message boards and online video streaming are all used to put out information by the common people. In South Korea, in 2002, Oh-Yoeon-Ho created OhmyNews which became successful under the slogan “Every citizen is a reporter”. Twenty percent of the content of OhmyNews is written by a staff of editors and reporters while the rest is contributed by freelancers who are mostly common people. OhmyNews is said to have transformed the conservative media environment of South Korea.
Many stories concerning 9/11 came from citizens who had been affected. In the 2009 elections in Iran, students used Twitter when foreign journalists were banned from reporting. Wikinews is a good example of pure and simple citizen journalism where people can post stories.
In Pakistan, citizen journalism was first taken seriously when General Musharraf declared his infamous emergency in 2007 and clamped some broadcast media. People made full use of mobile phone packages, chat rooms and blogs to voice their opinions. Another major incident in recent times which made ample use of citizen journalists was the long march which gave rise to Tweets, Facebook messaging, blogs and videos by ordinary people and kept everyone updated about what was happening.
Ideally media should keep a check on information going to the masses. Journalists are supposed to be impartial and should analyze information thoroughly before publishing or broadcasting it. But with citizen journalists being the source of information, there is no check and balance on such information. As such, all kinds of unverified information is distributed and leads to unnecessary misinterpretation.
However, one major advantage that citizen journalism brings is the creation of a class of hyper local citizens. People can now be active and raise issues in their own localities. The means of communication available makes it a lot easier for one to become an active citizen. Bringing people’s concerns to the masses and to the relevant authorities is now far easier than it was before. Since citizen journalism is not limited to hard core news, the social medium has become an important vehicle to raise voices. After the floods last year, there were many campaigns on Facebook and other social networking sites aimed at funds generation – and it worked.
Today’s citizen is not limited to or dependent upon conventional news organizations for putting across information in society and to the mass population. As Yochai Benkler, Berkman Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard and faculty co-director of the Berkman Centre for Internet and Society, has noted, “the capacity to make meaning – to encode and decode humanly meaningful statements – and the capacity to communicate one’s meaning around the world, are held by, or readily available to, at least many hundreds of millions of users around the globe”. The birth of a grassroot journalist was inevitable with the advent of current technology. Sometimes it proves itself to be a bit difficult to deal with, considering the limitations. But it has immense potential, nevertheless, and is a very effective and useful tool if used wisely.