Citizen jouranlists?


Suw Charman (ORG and Strange Attractor) has published a brilliant examination of citizen journlism at the Freedom of Expression project.

Read the whole article, or download the pdf. after the jump

The Changing Role of Journalists in a World Where Everyone Can Publish

info: Submitted by Lisa Horner on Sun, 2007-05-06 15:08.

by Suw Charman
Social media expert, writer and journalist

(Download a pdf version at the end of the paper)

Citizen journalism – when the general public investigate, fact-check and publish news stories – is changing the face of news. The historic role of gatekeeper, played until now by professional journalists, is obsolete. But new technology and increased civic participation are creating new opportunities for the mainstream media, and three key roles are emerging:

  1. Investigation – traditional in-depth investigative journalism made more transparent by publishing research and references.
  2. Curation – collecting trustworthy links and synthesising an informed and succinct overview of a story.
  3. Facilitation – working with the community to help people publish stories important to them.

What is ‘Citizen Journalism’?

Ask a dozen people to define ‘citizen journalism’, and you will undoubtedly get twelve different answers. This is not because agreement can’t be reached, but because many different activities have been lumped together under the same umbrella term. One definition might be:

“Citizen journalism: The execution of journalistic behaviours, such as investigation, fact-checking, and news publication, by the general public, usually on the internet.”

It doesn’t matter where these behaviours are exhibited, whether on a blog, a wiki, an independent website purpose-built to collect citizen journalism stories, or in a newspaper. Nor does it matter who is doing it – some journalists are also citizen journalists. What is important is that the general public now have the ability to investigate, report and fact-check news of every type and on every level, from international to hyperlocal.

However, some dislike the term ‘citizen journalism’, because:

  1. It sets up a false dichotomy between the professional journalist and the citizen journalist.
  2. The term ascribes the citizen journalist with a motivation – to become a professional journalist – that in the majority of cases does not exist.
  3. The term encourages people to make a value judgement, as if there is ‘real’ journalism and ‘citizen’ journalism, and that the former has more value than the latter.

There are many alternative phrases in use to describe mainstream media, including ‘participatory media’ and ‘distributed journalism’. But despite its flaws, the term ‘citizen journalism’ has gained currency and thus is the one this paper shall use.


The empowerment of the public has undoubtedly resulted in increased civic engagement30. Political apathy occurs when citizens feel disengaged from the political process, so it is essential to democracy that people are able to take part in public discourse: the ability to speak out, to be heard, and to make a difference is of vital importance in modern society. Citizen journalism plays a key part in this process, but with massive proliferation of information sources, we risk overwhelming ourselves, thus stifling instead of nurturing the conversation. The historical information bottleneck no longer exists, and the media are no longer in a position to act as gatekeepers who control the flow of information. Instead, they must now fulfil one of three core roles:

  1. Investigation – there will always be a real need for journalists who have the skill, time and resources to engage in investigation. The importance of this role in a functioning democracy should not be overlooked, particularly in the current climate of damaging cuts in the mainstream media’s newsgathering operations. However, journalists should publish their research and references wherever possible to provide more depth to their work.
  2. Curation – the more information is available, the more help we need to make sense of it, and the journalist who becomes expert at assessing other people’s content, creating a collection of trustworthy links and synthesising an informed and succinct overview of the story is performing a valuable service to a time- and attention-poor audience.
  3. Facilitation – there is a significant opportunity for journalists to work with the community as facilitators, helping people publish stories important to them, whether international or hyperlocal. These roles lie at the core of a healthy democracy, and we must consider their increasing importance in this connected, information-rich age.


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