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Citizen Media: Helpful or Invasive?

According to EDUCAUSE, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the proliferation of information technology, citizen media (or citizen journalism) is defined as the “wide range of activities in which everyday people contribute information or commentary about news events.” Because citizen media is comprised of commentary from average people, many argue that this form of guerilla journalism is biased, inaccurate and often a gateway to slander both people and events. Others, such as myself, believe that this form of broadcasting drives the success behind social networking by utilizing the freedom of speech.

Social networking falls under the umbrella of citizen media, and social networking is absolutely helpful. Mark Zuckerburg, CEO and founder of Facebook, has said that social networking allows “the world to be more open and connected . . . by giving people the power to share whatever they want and be connected to whoever they want, no matter where they are.” People can share ideas, information and gossip in a matter of seconds with today’s high-speed internet and portable devices. When you tweet your friend about whom you just saw waiting in line at Starbucks, or when you post a blurb on your Facebook page about the spectacular night you can’t remember you had last night, you are not only social networking, but, like it or not, you are performing an act of citizen journalism. Though the information you have posted may not be profound enough to end up on the front page of The New York Times, you are putting your thoughts and opinions of a first-hand experience out there for any of your friends and followers to access at any moment of the day. You are staying connected and keeping your friends informed with “news” that pertains to your life. If it pertains to their lives as well, they will keep tuning in.

A blog, tweet or post from a guerilla journalist are exactly the same thing: an opinion or series of thoughts recounting first-hand experiences. The journalist keeps followers and subscribers informed of his or her opinions regarding specific events. Just because the journalist’s commentary is on a subject that may affect more people than would your tweet about the vending machine being out of Reese’s Pieces, he or she still has the right, at least in this country, to publicly communicate his or her interpretation of an event, even if it does contain some distasteful rhetoric, which citizen journalism is often blamed for possessing.

Without our ability to speak our minds freely, we would be in no better situation in regards to media censorship than countries like China or Syria that banned social networking sites. Guerilla journalists are exercising their rights to free speech by utilizing digital platforms in order to keep us connected on both a local and global scale with their interpretations of events. Corinne Barnes of the Caribbean Quarterly argues: “Untrained writers may not understand concepts such as off-the-record material, attribution, balance, fairness and objectivity.

They write from their own experiences, their own lives, rather than seeing themselves as conduits of information in the public interest.”Though this may be true at times, it is up to us as potential consumers of their products to decide whether or not their material has value to us individually. I would argue that citizen media is proliferating as a result of the demand from consumers for more varied content and that they are obviously finding it useful or else it would not be so widely and frequently viewed.

Furthermore, if citizen journalism were invasive and not helpful, then why are mainstream media networks such as CNN, NBC and ABC not only reaching out to average citizens for media contributions but creating community-based platforms on their websites to headline citizen journalism? CNN has created iReport,
ABC has created i-Caught and NBC, just last week, has “[aimed] to take a lead role in the realm of user-generated content, and therefore in modern newsgathering” by acquisitioning the recent tech startup Stringwire, a purely citizen-based platform.

Mainstream media has finally realized that it no longer needs to spend money to send news anchors to the trenches in Syria or to the streets of Cairo to get the best shots. The citizens of the world happily do it for free.

Think of some of the recent events that have shocked and changed the world in the past few years: the hanging of Saddam Hussein, Mitt Romney’s 40 percent remark, the recent San Francisco plane crash and the meteorite that exploded over Urals in Russia. All were documented by citizen journalists, and that’s only naming a few. Every day, guerilla journalists who are critical of events capture and contribute some of the most profound news. Without the social networking platforms to share their journalism, or without the freedom to do so, these events would never be submitted, and they would never be seen by anyone who did not witness them first-hand. So next time you are watching the news on TV and see a video captured by a citizen, ask yourself, “Is this helpful or invasive?

 

Mark Leszczynski,
Senior English Major.