Aligning Citizen Journalism and Traditional Journalism

The advent of web 2.0 has result in the emergence of a cacophony of voices expressing themselves all over the web, giving rise to the the concept of “citizen journalism”.

 

In lay terms, citizen journalism refers to a form of recording events and issues by people who have neither conventional journalistic training or educational qualifications. Utilizing new web technologies, citizen journalists are able to reach to audiences and readers, just like traditional journalists.

 

Unlike proofessional journalists, citizen journalists are driven by the desire to tell their stories without necessarily pandering or adhering to institutional or organizational guidelines.

 

Moreover, the stories that citizen journalists tell do not have to follow traditional story-telling models that can be seen as restrictive on the one hand but in a way help to promote fairness and accuracy, on the other.

 

While the formlessless of citizen journalism allows for people to write as they consider fit to tell the story, it has also created a form of information chaos mainly on the web.

 

Citizen journalists do not have to adhere to standards or ethics, and are free to purvey information which has not undergone a filtering process to determine accuracy of content.

 

With citizen journalism, it is largely the preserve of the individual to define standards of telling the truth of the matter as closely as possible.

 

On the contrary, professional journalism is based on models that have been developed for a long period of time, and in many ways adheres to standards and ethics that ideally promote both fairness and accuracy.

 

However, as commercial interests have become a dominant force in traditional media, the traditional role of professional journalists to tell the full story has become increasinly eroded.

 

So, seen from another perspective, citizen journalism allows citizens to put the power back the hands of citizens because the models allows individuals to tell the story according to their own perspectives.

 

Ideally, both citizen and professional journalism have the same concern at their core: to get as much close to the truth as is possible through verbal and visual mediums.

 

Both models have inherent faultlines, and through a dialectical learning and collaborative process, each model has something to teach the other.

 

Put in other words, citizen journalism in its purest form is free from external interests, and is subject only to an individual’s desire to tell a perspective as they see it.

 

The fact that citizen journalism is all in an individual’s hands promotes freedom of expression but opens the model to abuse. Citizen journalists can easily fabricate and get away with it unlike professional journalists who have to adhere to a professional code of conduct and may face reparcations if they fabricate. Professional journalists may be forced to tell half-truths in order to protect commercial interests or purvey hegemonic stances.

 

In both cases, the quest for truth is what suffers, and humanity finds itself at a loss.

 

Thus, citizen journalism needs to borrow some of the standards and models that define traditional journalism without sacrificing the freedom of expression offered by new information technology platforms.

 

Likewise, professional journalism can incorporate the freedom to tell the story inherent in citizen journalism without losing traditional principles.

 

Therefore, citizen journalists can gain equality with professional journalist if they infuse principles and ethics of traditional journalism into their work.

 

Citizen journalists need to realize that they have a responsibility to be accurate and fair in the stories that they tell. Truth must not be sacrificed on the altar of freedom of expresion offered by pervasive Web 2.0 platforms.

 

Through a conscious awareness of objectivity, accuracy, corroboration, and editorial oversight – concepts that lie at the heart of professional journalism – citizen journalists can exponentially increase the integrity of their work, and subsequently achieve the esteemed value of trust with readers and audiences.

 

When citizen and traditional journalism meet in agreement at a principles level, truth prospers, and humanity will be better served.

Beauty of citizen journalism

As a citizen journalist I don’t have to peddle to the economic, ideological or political interests of the proprietors of the enterprise. My primary obligation is to tell the story like it is: that is, to be honest to the truth of the matter.

I believe in the fundamental human right to express myself, but I also strive to be fully accountable and responsible for the way that I express myself. Therefore, I make sure that I put a lot of work into background research and analysis into my work; and always try to look for the untold stories and marginalized voices within the community. With care and excellence, I tell the story to the world, using new technologies, in the process, expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

Obviously, I am aware that truth is negotiable, and arriving at it can be as complicated as trying to walk through a labyrinth. But the shape of the truth always changes depending on the pedestal on which you are located – a pedestal may be coloured by race, culture, sex, class, etc. Overall, mainstream media institutions usually have pre-defined notions of objectivity; therefore they miss telling the story or ignore stories because they are not interesting enough for their pre-conceived readerships.

As a citizen journalist, I feel I do not have many layers of pedestals that I have to think through to present the truth. In other words, I am not aligned to any political, ideological or economic interests that define my perspective. Neither am I constrained by any hegemonic views that dominate today’s media or society. I always make conscious effort that my work does not promote the empowerment of certain values to the submersion of others.

The technology that allows for this to happen is critical, and must always undergo transformation to enhance the level and quality of conversation. But equally important are the people that utilize the technology with integrity, passion, and a willingness to share and engage in expanding the scope of what it means to be a citizen.

I guess the experience of living in a context where freedom of both expression and the press is restricted to the political and economic elite makes me highly appreciate the concept of citizen journalism. The citizen’s ability to express themselves is the single, most important defining element of a functional democracy. Today’s virtual world offers me a chance to exercise that freedom like never before in the history of human beings.

Suffice to state that when a citizen is denied the right to express themselves for political, economic, ideological, race, class or any other reason, the democratic project begins a cancerous march toward collapse. In many societies, violence and civil war is a direct offshoot of a repression of citizens’ voices.

However, a citizen’s right to express themselves also comes with a responsibility to the rest of society. Given the fact that a citizen does not exist as an island in a vacuum, they have an obligation to express themselves in a way that does not jeopardize society. This is not to mean that they must sacrifice the truth.

Where the truth may jeopardise a given society, it’s better to have it in the open rather than sweep it under the carpet where it will gain venomous powers. Simply said, citizen journalism gives me both power and responsibilities, which help me to define and construct my sense of citizenship. However, my sense of citizenship has been broadened because I am not really confined by the physical, political, legal and economic boundaries that the powers-that-be use to restrain freedom of expression in the physical space.

Furthermore, I am free of the dominant ideology in my society. In my writing, I seek the views that spontaneously express themselves but receive little attention from the mainstream media. These are usually the things that happen around me and my community, and the world at large. They maybe commonplace yet they play a critical role in helping me to gain a sense of identity as a citizen of a new world.

Therefore, new information tools not only provide alternative channels of communication, but also open channels to engage in open and frank discussions that promote a new sense of identity and citizenship.

So for me, citizen journalism is all about people joining a dialogue and sharing with the rest of the world about what it means to be a citizen in a world that in many ways seeks to restrict the inalienable human right of freedom of expression.