According to Allan (2013, cited in Al-Ghazzi, 2014, pp.435), the term citizen journalism is defined by the use of digital media by “ordinary individuals who temporarily adopt the role of a journalist in order to participate in the newsmaking, often spontaneously during a time of crisis, accident, tragedy of disaster when they happen to be present on the scene”. This type of news making have been increasingly noticeable in recent years. Some of the most renowned traces of citizen journalism could be found during the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami, the Arab Spring in early 2010s, and to the more recent Grenfell Tower fire. Even though many have praised citizen journalism for its potential to mobilize the public to fight against unjust systems and its ability to unravel the truth and additional information which mainstream news outlets fail to report (i.
e. Farinosi and Treré, 2014), there are still some instances that shown how citizen journalism present threats to news industriesTo this, I argue that citizen journalism only presents a direct threat to the industry, in terms of endangering news agencies’ credibility. Otherwise, it poses challenges rather than threats of being “a person or a thing that is likely to cause damage or danger” to the news industries (Oxford University Press, 2018). However, depending on the political context and industry background of the news organizations, citizen journalism still could be considered as endangering the power of news organizations in ways such as threating the tight media control imposed by government bodies. Examples from the Arab Spring, the Umbrella Movement, the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, etc. will be used to support the arguments.First and foremost, citizen journalism presents a direct threat to news industries as it could undermine mainstream news agencies’ trustworthiness by providing them with misleading information. Sienkiewicz (2014, pp.
691-693) presents this threat clearly with an example from the Syrian Civil War. C.J. Chivers, a reporter from New York Times, argues in his 2013 article “Brutality of Syrian Rebels Posing Dilemma in West” that America’s military interference in the Syrian Civil War “could inadvertently strengthen Islamic extremists and criminals” (Chivers, 2013). To support his argument, Chivers made use of a video of seven Syrian soldiers’ execution led by Syrian rebel leader, Abdul Samad Issa. However, the video was in fact published in 2012 instead of 2013 as Chivers reported and the executioner is not a member of Al Qaeda or Jihadist Group (Chivers, 2013 and Sienkiewicz, 2014). Sienkiewicz then proceeded to question the trustworthiness of citizen journalism in the reporting of important issues such as military intervention (2014, pp.692)In cases when the content generator, or the citizen journalist is “willing to mislead”, and the professionals in news making industries fail to identify this error, not only would it generate concerns about the trustworthiness of sources from citizen journalists, the news outlets that remediated this misleading information would be affected as well.
It would lead to accusations that the news outlets are reporting ‘fake news’, thus, posing a threat to the industry’s credibility. Another example of citizen journalism posing a threat to the credibility of news industries is the false reporting in 2008 of former Apple CEO, Steve Jobs suffering from a heart attack. The rumor originated from iReport.com, which is a “YouTube-type, user-generated citizen news site launched by CNN” (Kperogi, 2011, pp. 314).
The rumor was later picked up by a few online news outlets, including the popular New York-based financial and technology news blog, Silicon Alley Insider (Now known as Business Insider) (Sandoval, 2008). This false report which surfaced on one of the most renowned news outlet even caused Apple’s stock to plummet after the spread of the rumor. Many journalists have criticized the outlets that reported the story for valuing immediacy of news distribution over the truth (Sandoval, 2008) the timeliness of news production. Citizen journalism was said to have “failed its first significant text” (Blodget, 2008) because it had provided misleading information to the news agencies and have eventually damaged the credibility of CNN. With reference to the previous examples, there is no doubt that citizen journalism presents a threat to news industries in the sense of diminishing their credibility. But, citizen journalism comes in various models, the examples used to argue the threat imposed by citizen journalism are illustrations of the potential drawbacks of “two- tier” conception of citizen journalism.
Sienkiewicz (2014) explains how this model of citizen journalism function: the first tier or citizen producers with cameraphones uncovered new truths through online technologies, the mainstream media, as the second tier, picks up a portion of the information and remediates it into the mainstream. This model poses a threat to news industries because there is a lack of professionalism, “every individual has a story to which she can contribute, but not everyone can contribute productively to every story” (Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp. 699), since citizens journalists are not bound by professional expectations and obligations to report the truth or be objective, they could easier generator unverified content that are misinforming.On the other hand, there are models of citizen journalism that could be an asset to news industries. In Sienkiewicz (2014)’s analysis of citizen journalism during the Syrian chemical attack in August 2013, he emphasizes the power and importance of the “three-tier” model of citizen journalism.
An “interpreter tier” that is made up of semi-professional journalists, who cross-check user-generated content and follow-up op events’ development, could “enhance the usefulness of user-generated news content” (2014, pp.693). Although this concept of citizen journalism created opportunities for news organizations, this more reliable model of citizen journalism also raises new challenges to the industry. Yet, these challenges do not endanger or have damaging effects to the industries, therefore, I argue that citizen journalism is more of a competitor than a threatening existence to the industries.Moving on, the “three- tier” model of citizen journalism challenges news industries, especially journalists of the industries, in terms of immediacy and providing context to the story.
Meikle (2009, pp.115) suggests that one of the professionalism standards of news industries lays on the speed of airing a story as soon as possible after it breaks. However, the emphasis on immediacy and timeliness means that news stories have a likelihood of lacking context (Schlesinger, 1987, cited in Meikle, 2009, pp.
15). The heavy focus on the present also result in news stories “having appeared with no explanation, and disappearing with no solution” (Bourdieu, 1998, cited in Meikle, 2009, pp.15). This suggests that news stories often lack context and fail to provide follow-ups on news stories. In contrast, the three-tier model of citizen journalism is able to not only provide reliable analysis to fill in the context of the events, but also follow up on the developments of stories or situations in a specific region (Sienkiewicz, 2014). Given that members of the interpreter tier usually have a wide network of contacts among mainstream journalists, citizen reports producers and distributors as well as long-term commitments to follow-up on specific areas or events, they play a significant role during complicated situations where “large amounts of citizen-produced information relate to a developing news narrative” (Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp.
693). When the Ghouta chemical weapon attack occurred on 21 August 2013, members of the interpreter tier such as James Miller, Elliot Higgins (Brown Moses) were able to contribute influential and reliable analysis of the incident within a short period of time. Their connections to the citizen sources in Syria and their advanced knowledge about the Syrian context enable them to start gathering and organizing chaotic information while most of the Europe based investigators, journalists and members of the interpreter were still asleep (Miller, 2013, cited in Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp. 697). Because og their efforts in cross-referencing citizen reports, and guided the production process of citizen journalism to gather verification, their analysis was reliable that even mainstream sources such as the report published by the Human Rights Watch only 20 days after the attack, have quoted their analysis (Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp.698).
This example shown that the interpreter tier has the ability to “compile, contextualize and verify” citizen reports in a timely manner, proofing that citizen journalism is capable of posing a challenge to the news industries. In addition, citizen journalism regardless of models still poses a challenge to the immediacy of news distribution. An example from the 2014 Umbrella Movement, a student led protest that fought for genuine universal suffrage, in Hong Kong will be used. Daniel Cheung, a citizen journalist documenting the movement suggests that “Independent media and individual citizen journalists enjoy greater editorial independence; they can release first-hand information quicker.” (Varsity, 2014). Moreover, In a YouTube video entitled ‘Hong Kong protest 2014: The Watchdog of Causeway Bay | Report #4’, a reporter from the Guardian interviewed Chris Lau, a student protestor and one of the many citizen journalists who have been documenting as much incidents as possible (The Guardian, 2014). While the interview was in progress, Lau noticed there was something happening in a nearby area, the crew captured him rushing towards the place immediately after the reporter agreed to follow him.
Lau mentioned later that he was not able to sleep because he has been filming and uploading clashes between the protesters and the police as much as possible, even if it means he had to film at midnight (The Guardian, 2014). His dedication and immediate action of citizen journalism is a representation of how citizen journalism is challenging news industries in terms of immediacy in news distribution. Furthermore, citizen journalism is posing a challenge to news outlets’ in the sense that they could “force mainstream news outlet to report on events that might otherwise go unnoticed.” (Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp.692) or reveal truths that are neglected or avoided by the mainstream news outlets.
Continuing with another example from the Umbrella Movement, pro-government news agencies tend to present a positive portrayal of the police’s role during the movement (Chan, 2015) despite clear evidences of the abuse of police power (Big Person, 2014) that were generated by citizen journalists. On the other hand, pro-democracy news organizations often portray the police as brutal and inhumane (Chan, 2015) even if there are proves that shown the police’s rightful actions against radical protestors (seatigerz2000, 2014). In situations when reports from the mainstream news industries are biased, the practice of citizen journalism could provide additional information and truths that are accessible to people with different political stances. Regardless of political believes, the citizen generated content offered opportunities for people to see both sides of the coin rather than blindly believe that they read in the news. Farinosi and Treré’s article (2014) also provided an example of how citizen journalism is used to bypass mainstream media that failed to reflect the truth of a story or event. After the L’Aquila earthquake in 2009, Italian mainstream media created a false picture that recovery work is undergoing successfully and efficiently, while people who live in L’Aquila pointed out that it was the opposite of the actual situation there through producing citizen journalism (Farinosi and Treré, 2014).According to them, mainstream media in Italy is under the influence of the former Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, who is also a media tycoon that has possession over three of the seven national television channels (he used to own a total of six when he was still the Prime Minister of Itlaly) (2014, pp.
75). The Berlusconi government and the mainstream media failed to reflect the ‘real’ situation in L’Aquila and neglected the citizens’ need, thus, many of them began to participate in citizen journalism through the use of online media platforms in hopes to offer an alternative point of view which reflects the truth of the people’s lives and struggles after the disaster (Farinosi and Treré, 2014). So far, the discussion has shown that citizen journalism is a capable competitor of the news industries. It is faster when it comes to generating content as well as arranging massive amounts of user generated content.
If mainstream news industries could work will citizen journalists, especially the members in the interpreter tier, it would be an opportunity for the industries to improve their shortcomings in a digital and social media driven era. Next, the discussion will extend to citizen journalism under different political and industry context, especially in nations that impose strict over their news agencies. To begin with, Citizen journalism in China presents an obvious threat to the authority of government- controlled news industries. Most mainstream news outlet and media in China are under tight control by the Chinese government in ways such as censorship and content filtration of sensitive issues that could potentially threaten the rule of the Communist Party of China (CPC) or cause social instability (Zhang, 2006 cited in Xin, 2010). Therefore, government- controlled news organizations played a significate role in shaping and controlling people’s ideology. But, with citizen journalism, people are now able to discover facts that reveal the unjust in the system.
For example, citizen journalists founded websites like ‘Not the News’ (fei xinwen) provided reports about social movements, worker’ rights campaign, demonstrations, protests etc. (Chinese Human Rights Defenders, 2015). These are information that will never appear in the reporting from government-controlled news outlets because they are sensitive content of activism which could impact and challenge the Communist Party’s rule. On one hand, news industries are trying to maintain the rule of CPC through censorship and content filtration, but citizen journalism is a powerful model that could expose the problems of the Communist regime, thus undermining the industries’ authority over people’s political ideology. The imprisonment of the founder of ‘Not the News’, Lu Yuyu, is a further prove that the CPC sees citizen journalism as a threat to its control over the media. Secondly, depending on the background of news industries, citizen journalism could be considered as a threat to the mainstream news industries’ monopoly and the professionalism of journalism. Indian journalists’ monopoly could be identified from their control over the definition, production, and dissemination news (Chadha and Steiner, 2015, PP.706).
Journalism and the news industry in India are exclusive to professional journalists and the news making industry is corrupted (Chadha and Steiner, 2015). One of the examples is how people can pay an amount of money to manipulate the news reporting. The emergence of citizen journalism in India poses a threat to the news industries’ monopoly because whoever possess digital media devices would be able to practice journalism, citizens who are not professionals could produce amateur news at a low cost (Chadha and Steiner, 2015).
For example, a citizen journalism enterprise called the CGNet Swara have been utilizing new media technologies such as mobile phones to allow people in rural and tribal communities to receive news stories and contribute their own reports (Chad and Steiner, 2015). This show that citizen journalism broke the journalists’ domination in news production and distribution, and threatened the professionalism of news agencies as amateurs can now have the chance to work with professional journalism. Here, the examples from China and India have shown that citizen journalism could be treated as a threat to the news industries even if the ‘threat’ in other context could be described under a celebratory narrative. Take citizen journalism in China as an example, it presents a threat to the news industries because it undermines state- controlled news industries’ power to control the revelation of information. However, if the Communist Party’s influences on news industries is taken out of context, then this ‘threat’ appears to be less damaging to the mainstream news organizations. Citizen journalism in China, without considering the political context, could be regarded a challenge to news industries instead of a threat, as it merely revealed more truths and information that news industries failed to notice (Sienkiewicz, 2014, pp.692). As a result, depending on the different contexts, citizen journalism could shift from being a threat that endangers the news industries, to a competitor that challenges the industries.
To sum up, this essay discussed the ways in which citizen journalism presents a threat to news industries. From Chivers mistake in reporting the Syrian civil wars, it appears that citizen journalism does cause damages to news industries’ credibility (Sienkiewicz, 2014). However, I argue that citizen journalism poses more of a challenge to news agencies than a threat because it, in many ways, does not cause destruction to the industries. With models of citizen journalism such as the “three-tier” model, not only does the middle “interpreter tier” created a solution to the problem of citizen reports’ reliability, it also shown that citizen journalism has the ability to compete with mainstream news outlets in terms of the immediacy of news distribution (Sienkiewicz, 2014). Moreover, I also argue that depending on the contexts and the different narratives of citizen journalism, it could still consider as a threat even if it is not the case in other nations.