Though the term is relatively new, with few examples before 2005, it is now common, in part because it appeared in Dan Gillmor’s book We the Media of 2004. It refers to individuals who report on the news from outside traditional journalism channels. This might be as simple as photographing or videoing a news event as it unfolds and passing the images on to a newspaper or newscast, or writing a blog on current events from a position of specialist knowledge. (The first sort has been given the ungainly title of user generated content.) Its rise has been entirely due to the Internet, which has provided a vast forum in which anybody can, in theory, talk to anybody and in which it is infinitely easier both to research facts and to communicate them.
The term citizen journalism has been in the news recently because of a recent ruling against Apple Computer by an appeals court in the USA. Apple tried to get bloggers who had revealed trade secrets to hand over their sources, but the court said that bloggers were covered by the same shield law as journalists and by the First Amendment protections of the press. “We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish ‘legitimate’ from ‘illegitimate’ news,” the opinion said.
Citizen journalism is often seen as two-edged. It provides a large pool of informed and concerned members of the public who can, and often do, expose inaccuracy or mendacity in announcements by public figures or the mainstream press. The downside is that such journalism is usually by people who lack many of the key skills of finding and interpreting information and who often have trouble avoiding bias or selective reporting.
With the rise in citizen journalism, the internet and video phones, big world events unfold before our eyes in a very different way to a few years ago.
The Independent, 8 May 2006
“Citizen journalism allows the true voice of the people to emerge free of the inaccurate spinning often found in traditional media reports,” says Arianna Huffington, co-founder and editor of HuffingtonPost.com.
PR Newswire, 14 Mar. 2006