A Tug of War between Citizen Journalism and Traditional News Media; One over the other?

With the birth of the internet, our world of information has seen a mutation occur. Previously passive consumers of ‘one avenue’ mass media journalism have now transformed into ‘produsers’. Engrossed in a participatory culture, citizens are now observing and sharing a world of information on events, opinions, reactions and everything in between – creating what we refer to as Citizen Journalism.


If a major event transpires somewhere in the world and no one is around to take a photo, record a video or report it, did it really occur? Obviously I’m referencing this philosophical question regarding observation and knowledge of reality. In regards to journalism, for me this question calls into perspective the importance of collective intelligence and the inability of traditional mass media to compete with the emergence of citizen journalism.

This is a little clip detailing the use of Instagram in documenting images of Hurricane Sandy as they were captured by those who witnessed the hurricane. I find this to be an example of collaborative journalism by ordinary people. If you consider the way citizen journalism works on a larger scale it becomes apparent that the portrayal of Hurricane Sandy through thousands of unique photos reflects a microcosm of the potential of citizen journalism; thousands of individuals sharing their experience of an event from different times, places and circumstances. Something that can’t effectively be offered by traditional journalism as it is just ONE perspective.

Think about it like this…

Every human being, with obvious exceptions, has the opportunity to commit an act of citizen journalism. With minimum effort the average Joe can witness an event in the street, snap a photo, upload to twitter and hey presto, an act of citizen journalism. On the other end of the spectrum, we can see citizens researching and reporting, in depth, events and crises of the modern world. A great example would be this man…


Creator of the Brown Moses blog and Syrian arms expert, Eliot Higgins definitely isn’t in any official capacity (he’s actually a 34-year-old father of one who lives in a suburb of Leicester, previously laid off from his job with a financial company) but has now become the go to source for information on weapons being used by terrorists in Syria.


If you compare the number of people in the world to the number of journalists/traditional news media sources (which is a figure apparently much more difficult to keep tabs on but for all intents and purposes we’ll assume is much, much smaller) you can see that an exponentially larger amount of opportunities are available to citizens to record and report events where professional journalists have limited access or none at all. Given the extent of this information available on the internet, compatible to the users demand, traditional mass media just can’t cut it. What Bruns refers to as a paradigm shift is simply the nature of an emerging media ecology with $0 cost of entry and no gatekeepers, rebelling against highly centralised systems of media.  Sure, you can consider the value of having a reliable source of information that falls under a code of ethics but then consider how this is outweighed by the flaws of classic mass media. Bias, agenda, sensationalism, inaccuracies and most hilariously of all – a rampant disregard to original scripting…

Of course, this is close to being as bad as it gets and mass media can actually offer reputability and span of influence due to exposure that can often be lacking in citizen journalism. This is where an impasse is reached. Do we sacrifice institutionalised news media for citizen journalism? The idea of citizen journalism has spawned both waves of praise and waves of criticism. In the end, it all comes down to integrity. Citizens need their news fix and updates daily and want it to be from valuable and credible sources and the fact is that sometimes information is more valuable from a someone closer to the story whether or not they have degree, job or speciality in journalism. Having evolved highly centralised systems of media for half a millennium, we are now returning to a second era of mass media — in the true sense of that term. I think citizen journalism is just a sign of things to come.


Bruns, Axel (2007) Produsage: Towards a Broader Framework for User-Led Content Creation. In Proceedings Creativity & Cognition 6, Washington, DC.





Read more on Eliot Higgins;



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