We can transmit information to the World Wide Web, whether it be a picture of a rainbow after a stormy day, a fatal car crash, or an international sports icon at the local café.

We’re living in a time where the immediate response to any event is to grab a smartphone and tell the world.

Call it – Citizen Journalism. 

“With technology and social media and citizen journalism, every rock that used to go unturned is now being flipped, lit and put on TV.”

~ LZ Granderson

With the ever-advancing digital technology and increasing popularity of social media, traditional news platforms are expanding.

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Sources: Screenshots from corresponding Facebook pages.

Our world has contemporised – and with this, the ability to commit acts of journalism is spreading to everyone.

Including YOU.

But, like everything, there are two sides to a story. Is it good or bad?

Youtube – Citizen Journalism is Reshaping the World: Brian Conley at TEDxMidAtlantic.

Citizen Journalism; the process of collecting, writing, editing and distributing news and information by members of society (Curtis, 2012 as cited in Mirvajova, 2014)*, is observed with great scepticism, particularly for its lack of professionalism.

Unlike professional journalists, citizen journalists are not educated in the DOs and DON’Ts. Journalists are bound to a Code of Ethics – Citizen journalists are not. Some say this threatens the accuracy, reliability, impartiality and legal principles of the craft.

“Journalism is the exercise of an enquiring mind within an ethical framework.”

~ Dr Vincent O’Donnell

So, can we actually classify it “journalism”?

Factual inaccuracies & unreliability

Internet users are persuaded to trust online content. So when they see “news”, it’s immediately validated. Right? Wrong.

Journalists are trained to maintain trust, confidence and reliability in their publications by filtering nonfactual and inaccurate information. Citizen journalists are unexperienced in these areas, hence risk committing factual inaccuracies and using unreliable sources and causing damage.

Remember the CNN iReport story about Steve Jobs suffering a heart attack? It was a hoax and caused Apple’s stock market to drop dramatically.

Subjectivity & bias

In journalism, ethicality and reliability start with distancing oneself from what you report.

Journalists are trained to be impartial and objective to a story – news must be free from bias, and personal beliefs for it to be ethical and reliable.

As citizen journalism is reflective of personal opinions – they can post about matters meaningful to them – it becomes subjective and biased. Which raises the perplexing question: Who are they writing for, and why?


Source: Flikr, Srividya Balayogi

Legal principles & wrongs

No matter who you are, there are laws that govern your actions.

It’s a legal requirement to eliminate defamatory content from news, and journalists are trained in libel law to ensure this. Yet, citizen journalists have no obligation to learn such information, hence risk many legal ramifications.

E.g. Accusing the wrong suspects could cause a myriad of issues including, lengthening court trials by tampering with information, and problems for the unlawfully incriminated.

“Amateurism can become a dangerous substitute for trained, responsible behaviour.”

~ Roy Peter Clark

These complications of citizen journalism display a major differentiation from traditional journalism. And so, is it “journalism” after all?

What do you think?

* Victória, M. 2014. The Golden Age of Citizen Journalism, Annales UMCS, Sectio K (Politologia); 2014, Vol 21 Issue 1, p149-160, 12p.

Featured Image: Flikr, Sean MacEntee