The Future of Citizen Journalism

A Voice of the Many or the Few?

Can social media decide whose views are actually visible to the wider online community? Twitter has recently come under fire following allegations of “Shadow banning” users, which involves hiding their posts from the rest of the Twittersphere. This claimed act of control was brought to light by conservative activist James O’Keefe who spoke to Twitter employees whilst undercover and recorded them as they revealed that they have ways to ban users or hide their posts without letting them know. This raises the alarm that it may be possible for social media sites to decide whose voice is heard, for example, hiding conservative opinions. It is therefore possible that citizen journalists’ stories could be concealed. If the allegations are proven true, perhaps only certain views will be visible. Do we underestimate the power and potentially manipulative nature of social media sites? And are we just presented with a media bias to prevent public retaliation?

Social Media Clamp Down?

MONDAY NOTE discussed the possibility of Facebook cutting back on the amount of journalism it has on the site. As it has been claimed that Facebook will be “prioritising what their friends and family share and comment on while de-emphasising content from publishers and brands”. This move is being introduced in order to have “more meaningful social interactions”, but could this be damaging to citizen journalism? MBTM believe that there could be two potential outcomes, either citizens will be more empowered to share news stories online to make up for the lack of professional news stories on users’ feeds or it could lessen the amount of citizen journalism as some users may be unaware of current affairs, especially if they relied upon social media sites to obtain information.

Should Citizens Be Treated the Same as Professionals?

This year Priscilla Villarreal, a citizen journalist was arrested in Laredo, Texas because she published information before police had made an official announcement. This raises the question, should citizen journalists be treated the same as professionals? Members of the public do not undergo the training professionals must do and may not consider ethical issues, so is it fair to punish the public for sharing news ahead of major news outlets?

Moreover, what about rewarding citizen journalists? Would it be enough for a news outlet to simply give credit to an individual who has provided them with material that they have used, giving them their moment of ‘fame’? South Korea’s Ohmynews.com does in fact pay citizens a small sum (usually $2-$20) for their contributions to the site but paying citizen journalists in the US hasn’t quite caught on yet.  Perhaps offering a sum of money to the public for their stories would increase the quality of their journalism, or perhaps it would heighten the levels of fake news where people manipulate the truth in order to receive money.

A Look into the Potential Future of Citizen Journalism

To Conclude

The future of citizen journalism remains uncertain. It is clear that social media platforms can control what we see, including news, and if measures are taken to reduce the amount of news we see, citizens may either be empowered or disempowered. In the age of modern technology, anyone can share news online which can be extremely valuable to our understanding of current affairs but issues surrounding ethics could lead to a damaged perception of citizen journalism and if social media sites take extra measures to monitor what information we share, the public may feel less inclined to voice their stories and opinions.

 

Social Media and the Empowerment of Citizen Journalism

With modern mobile technology, anyone is able to take pictures, videos and live stream events straight to social media. The way in which we collect and share news is changing and with the ease of accessing social media sites (SMS), we may find ourselves seeking information there opposed to traditional news websites and printed press.

 Empowering the Public

SMS have had a profound influence on the way in which we communicate our thoughts and beliefs. The BBC noted three ways in which social media has enhanced our newsgathering and sharing experience: firstly, it helps us gather more and in some cases better information, offering a range of eyewitness accounts and voices. Secondly, it has changed the way in which we listen and talk about news stories, giving us a global reach and lastly it provides everyone with the tools to share our own journalism and engage with different, younger audiences also.

The video below further discusses the power that social media has to highlight and spread information relating to societal issues. It can be used by activists to inspire change and take action.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN-kIJI_5wg]

Capturing Injustice

 Facebook livestream has been particularly revolutionary in broadcasting the actions of others and in many instances, the misconduct of police. For example, in 2016, Diamond Reynolds “captured the aftermath of the shooting by a police officer of her boyfriend Philando Castile in Minnesota and streamed it live on Facebook” (Tribune). Publicised events such as this have led to public outrage and protests. The exposure to such footage allows people to see incidents which may not have been covered by traditional news and provides insights to ‘the average person’s’ perspective.

The Drawbacks of Facebook and Live Streaming

With people of all ages using Facebook and user’s being able to post content as they please, ethical concerns arise. Graphic and violent content can be live streamed and will not be removed until reported. With a global reach, Facebook can allow unrestricted access to violent and graphic content which may upset users. Despite some of this content being important and newsworthy, it may be uncensored and arguably an inappropriate way to deliver news.

 How Empowered are the Public?

Forbes has been critical towards the level of empowerment citizens actually have through social media sites and note that these platforms can control whose voice is heard. They noted, “The reality is that instead, the same great powers who have always had a voice have had theirs amplified a million fold, while the voiceless remain silent”. This suggests that despite anyone being able to share their own content and opinions, already powerful influencers have the same advantage and are likely to have a wider reach.

Sourcing News from Social Media Sites

We can see that many SMS users are sourcing news from these platforms, with Facebook standing as the most popular location in the US. Despite Facebook being the most popular SMS to use and share information, it must also be recognised that the majority of Twitter users seek information there, with 15% being users and 11% also getting news it is clear that Twitter is a prominent SMS for sharing and sourcing news.

So… Has Social Media Shaped Journalism for the Better?

Despite there being concerns over SMS monitoring content posted online and the reliability of these stories, SMS have undeniably provided the public with the tools to voice their opinions and debate current affairs with other online users. We now have platforms for activists to bring to light issues and raise awareness on a global scale. Furthermore, as previously stated by the BBC, we now have access to more information from different perspectives and have the opportunity to engage with individuals across the globe. However, the controversy surrounding the extent to which we feel we can trust citizen journalists and their lack of ethical considerations does pose the question, have SMS benefited us more than damaged the face of journalism as we know it?

Who Do We trust?

In today’s society, we are bombarded by a wealth of constant news updates. The rise of citizen journalism means that we are now receiving full coverage of events from a variety of perspectives.

With further advances constantly being made to technology, anyone is able to capture a newsworthy event from the convenience of their mobile phone. The question is, who can we trust to provide us with reliable information? Do we impulsively believe what major news outlets say, assuming that professionals don’t make mistakes? Or do we trust the average person, people who are in the moment of the event but have not undergone the extensive training professionals have?

The Difference Between Citizens and Professional Journalists

Journalists have the necessary skills in order to process information and broadcast it with ethical and political values in mind. In the case of citizens, their accuracy when accounting for an event may not be up to the same standards we would expect from professionals, so why should we trust them?

Why Wouldn’t We Trust the Media?

The video below discusses some of the reasons why levels of trust in the media have declined in the US and shares statistics on the decreasing print sales and the impact of the rise of social media and the blogosphere.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B0HV_GQut4]

A further contributing factor to our increasing faith in the public is that the media has previously been caught up in scandals. An example is of the News of the World phone hacking in 2011 in the UK which not only angered the public, losing their trust, but ultimately led to its closure. This particular scandal demonstrates the destructive impact the media has taken as a result of  breaching the journalistic rules of ethical consideration. Such scandals can really dishearten the public and damage their faith in the news industry. Despite citizens coming under fire for not undergoing professional training to gain an important insight into ethics, it is clear that even major news outlets have disregarded its significance.

A News Story with an Opinion

American scholar Noam Chomsky has conveyed disfavor towards seeking information from social media sites, “I don’t look at Twitter because it doesn’t tell me anything. It tells me people’s opinions about lots of things, but very briefly and necessarily superficially, and it doesn’t have the core news” (ALTERNET). Despite Chomsky establishing this valid point about users transmitting opinions in posts, he fails to recognise that this can also be considered a benefit, varying opinions can provoke debates which can further enlighten us.

 How to Combat Falsified News

Social media platforms such as Facebook were criticised for allowing false news to be circulated on their site. In order to help prevent this, they used IFCN (International Fact Checking Network) so that third party fact checkers who are signed up with IFCN can approve the news before it spreads (BBC). Facebook users who are suspicious of a story can ‘flag’ it and this will begin the process of verification.

Once detected as inaccurate, a Facebook user who then tries to share the story will receive a message to alert them it has been flagged as false. Despite this negatively effecting the story’s credibility, it may still be shared and potentially continue to mislead others. Furthermore, this action is only effective once a story is detected as false, until then, it may do a great deal of damage thanks to how connected we are on social media.

How Effective Can Monitoring False News Really be?

LSE highlighted an excellent point which is that “we can see what is ‘fake’ but what is truth in a world of diverse opinions and increasing subjectivity?”. Indeed, it is arguable that there is never an absolute truth and the complex nature of humans’ result in varying interpretations.

So… Who Do We Trust?

 

As the graph shows, it is clear that we still rank major news outlets as the most trustworthy, with 24/7 news channels ranked the highest, far more than online only sources such as blogs and social media sites which is where citizen journalists circulate their information. Despite these current figures, perhaps these statistics will change in the future, after all, the media is constantly evolving.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them!

The Collaboration of Citizens and Major News Outlets

 “More and more readers, viewers and listeners are going online for their news. Television, newspapers and radio are still here but there is a growing competition” (Reuters Institute).

With the increasing pressures of the 24/7 news cycle, the media is being forced to establish new strategies to compete with amateurs who are breaking news first.

What are Media Broadcasting Companies Doing to Compete?

 Citizen journalism is being encouraged by some major news outlets.

CNN introduced ‘iReport’ where anyone can share news stories. To quote CNN, the intended outcome of iReport is to “expand the current definition of news”. It is clear that major media companies are adopting an ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ attitude whereby members of the public are essentially being used for that particular outlet.

Below is a video of a quick interview with one of CNN’s iReport representatives who explains what iReport is and how to become a part of it. One particular quote which you may find to be interesting is “Our name of the game is breaking news”. This clearly suggests that the reason for CNN creating this open forum is to not only adapt to the modern world of technology, but to compete with other media outlets in the race to break news first, as previously discussed on MBTM’s previous article “The People vs. The Press”.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWIep85KGLA]

What are the Possible Risks for Major News Outlets?

As mentioned previously, CNN are encouraging internet users to share content they perceive to be ‘newsworthy’ on their website iReport. This may seem like an ingenious scheme but what if false reports are published and spark a frenzy? As you have probably guessed, it already has.

In 2008, a false report was made stating that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had died of a heart attack. Not only did this cause panic but “trading in Apple’s stock skyrocketed and the share price briefly fell about 10 percent” according to cnet. Unsurprisingly, CNN received criticism for the failure to adequately monitor and discredit inaccurate stories. ‘Teaming up’ with members of the public clearly poses as a threat to a media outlet’s credibility if misleading information in publicised.

Should Media Companies Continue to Encourage Citizen Journalists’ Contributions on Their Websites?

There are both positive and negative outcomes to help answer this question. The table below displays the potential benefits and drawbacks.

 

As you can see, there is a balance of positive and negative aspects regarding citizen journalism being encouraged on major news companies’ websites.

Can Anything Be Done to Filter Through Verified and False News?

Of course there is a solution here… but it doesn’t quite work under the pressures of the 24/7 news cycle. Companies such as CNN could invest time into verifying stories shared by citizen journalists before they are publicised. The issue with this however, is that the news industry is becoming increasingly competitive and the time pressures to release information before anyone else are overwhelming. It would therefore be too time consuming to check through every member’s story and the action of doing so may result in a company losing a valuable scoop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The People vs. The Press

A New Era of Journalism

“Citizen journalism is a rapidly evolving form of journalism(Athens Journals) and with the aid of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, ordinary people are able to share newsworthy stories on a global scale.

But there is concern that citizen journalists are challenging more conventional forms of news broadcasting. This article will explore the competitive side of breaking news and the potential threat citizen journalists pose to the news industry.

The Race to Break News

There is no denying that members of the public are useful in broadcasting events that would be otherwise missed by journalists due to geographical location.

“News usually breaks on social media. Within seconds, an eyewitness will tweet their account of an event, before posting video, photographs and comments” (BBC Academy).

The following graphic has been created to demonstrate some of the major breaking news stories from the previous 10 years which was first publicised by users on Twitter.

This shows how increasingly difficult it is becoming for professional journalists to be the first to break major news events. With media devices in close proximity to the public at all times, is it possible for journalists to compete?

Citizen Journalism – A Better Form of Storytelling?

Hearing news from a citizen’s perspective can provide an intimate and personal account of an event which can resonate better with other members of the public. Broadcasting from the viewpoint of an individual who may be adversely affected or involved in an event gives the audience an insight which would not otherwise be covered by mainstream media.

As noted by Marketing Insider Group, citizen journalism can be perceived as “more real” and shares the opinions of the public. News can now be sourced from individuals directly involved in an event and not just from official news outlets where information has been fed through a loop of reporters.

The Death of Print Journalism?

In late 2016, the Press Gazette reported that approximately 198 UK newspapers closed since 2005. Is it possible that the evolution of the news industry could lead to the end of print journalism as we know it?

The Press Gazette revealed 2015 to be one of the most detrimental years for print journalism, with 19 newspapers launching and 33 closing in the UK. The graph below displays this shocking imbalance between new and ‘dead’ newspapers and is a clear indication of why print journalism should be concerned for its survival.

It is clear that constant improvements to technology and members of the public freely posting news content online is somewhat impacting the print media. Is it just a matter of time before we stop looking to newspapers as a source of information?

Should Professional Journalists Feel Threatened?

Despite all the benefits of citizen journalism, there is still a need for journalists who posses the skills to broadcast in an professionalethical and unbiased manner. Maintaining a neutral stance on a subject is key to professional journalism but citizens’ broadcasts are typically considered to transmit biased views (PRESSETHIC).

With this in mind, perhaps citizen journalism should be considered as an addition to journalism rather than a replacement.