As news organizations try to adapt to the ever-changing media landscape and one-up competition with creative methods of breaking news, some of their contenders now have nowhere near the resources, training or wherewithal, yet are still having an impact. Where citizen journalists may lack in finances and formal instruction, they’ve made up for in originality and conviction.
Despite their pedestrian status and lack of conventional credentials, the endeavors of citizen journalism shouldn’t be undercut because they’ve influenced meaningful change and gained traction within the traditional media; look at bloggers, WikiLeaks, Occupy Wall Street videos or Andrew Breitbart’s takedown of Anthony Weiner. This new form is groundbreaking because it empowers the average person to potentially dictate or even overturn the news narrative once exclusively directed by traditional media. Where the media may fall short, everyday folks can now whip out a camera, recorder or cellphone and broadcast whatever they want over the Internet, unfiltered by decision-makers who may have otherwise not seen the initial value or even known about an incident.
In their eyes, citizen journalists pick up the slack where traditional media fails. Because the media, based on its own judgment, may have not picked up a story or angle, citizens who feel a story is important enough to make known can now do so. A citizen journalist’s interpretation of the traditional media’s effectiveness and credibility is that it is somewhat imperfect, which it, of course, is. After all, nothing is entirely perfect, and pretending there’s an uncontaminated purity is misinformed.
This doesn’t necessarily imply that there’s a widespread scheme by established media to discount particular stories, but clearly some people feel unheard or unrepresented and therefore produce this content. Rather than dismiss these findings as illegitimate because of their less-than-marquee providers, consider the value that journalism, in general, provides the public: an information source that brings to light matters and moments that a reader or viewer may not otherwise see or learn about. If citizen journalists perform the basic task of introducing the public to information that they can pull out some significance from, then the reason to discount them is based solely on a resistance to let in new voices.
Take the Arab Spring uprisings. The gritty, pixilated recordings of mass protests and, tragically, killings are from what are essentially bystanders spreading images from the region’s events much more than major television networks. Closer to home, a series of videos by James O’Keefe creatively revealed how easily voter fraud can take place, including in Minneapolis. Are O’Keefe and his tactics customary to the media’s time-honored role in society and methodology? No, but it’s still imparting information on a timely and relevant matter. By heightening people’s awareness and contributing to the public discourse, citizen journalists are accomplishing the same objectives of the traditional media but doing so by taking up that responsibility for themselves.
The effectiveness and success of citizen journalists are apparent, as the media now incorporates and responds to their content almost daily. The capacity that our fellow citizens have to change and influence how the country and the world see and understand current events is important to recognize, even if there are times when it may make us uncomfortable with what it’s presenting or skeptical of its credibility. Ignoring the work of citizen journalists doesn’t validate our faith in the past institutions; it invalidates our claims for the pursuit of truth.
Andrew Johnson welcomes comments at
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