What is citizen journalism? Why citizen journalism? What are the achievements from citizen journalism? How citizen journalism can contribute to transparent and accountable political processes? How are you going to
achieve accuracy and fill in the gaps and shortages of citizen journalism? How do you cope with self-censorship and fear from negative repercussions from activism and citizen journalism? How come citizen journalism has developed so quickly and is so widespread? What are the risks from citizen journalism?
These and many other questions are often posed to our teams in the field, at seminars and workshops, or via messenger or e-mail… Those are excellent questions, challenging our work and making us double-check the quality of our work every day. Let us start from the beginning...
What is citizen journalism?
There are numerous definitions of citizen journalism. We, at CIVIL, have and ongoing and lively discussion on how to define citizen journalism.
Though we keep it open for further discussion, for the purposes of the training seminars and workshops, we adopted the following definition: Citizen journalism is an alternative, activism-based form of reporting, as
a civic response to the shortcomings of the tradional media space. It is based on journalistic practices, but uses alternative sources and forms of expression, and draws its legitimacy from personal or group experiences
and viewpoints of eyewitnesses or participants to events and processes.
Citizen journalism is guided by motives and ideals that derive from the civic demands for democracy and freedom of expression. It is journalism in the hands of citizens who have active role in the process of information
gathering, analysis and dissemination of news, information and opinion.
Why citizen journalism?
First of all, because we can and we want to change the ways traditional media are treating news and the audience. Citizen journalists do not earn their living from their activities in area of information. They want to
improve society! Therefore, they seek for space to express themselves and inform the public about events from their vantage point. In most cases, citizen journalists are the closest to the events and even part of
the events. Although this may pose some problems with accuracy and objectivity, citizen journalists’ contributions across the world are the first contact with the reality of events.
What are the achievements from citizen journalism?
They bring fastest news from the face of the place. Citizen journalists’ produce direct, uncensored, independent contents, news, information and opinion.
How citizen journalism can contribute to transparent and accountable political processes?
People very often want to know what the link is between citizen journalism and political processes, particularly in the area of transparency and accountability. Here is how. Citizen journalists are everywhere. They are witnesses or part of procedures or actions of the authorities, institutions, political parties and officials on daily basis. Citizen journalists are aware that they can record and publicize various situations, and officials are aware that their actions
and behavior can be reported publicly. Therefore, they are motivated to provide better public services and be more transparent on their conduct of duties.
After two years of implementation of the Civic Lenses project, we can proudly state that authorities nowadays are more aware – not only about the fact that their acts may be observed, recorded and publicized, but also
of the violations themselves. Or, in other words, some habits and practices that were considered as “normal” in the past, now are understood and seen as violations. Using official cars for private or political party activities,
for example. Using office phones for partisan mobilization. Mobilizing subordinates for partisan events. All this and many other actions are now subject to observation and public exposure due to the citizen journalists.
How are you going to achieve accuracy and fill in the gaps and shortages of citizen journalism?
It is true that most of the media theorists and academics tend to deny the qualities and values of citizen journalism, particularly criticizing it for the lack of objectivity, accuracy, use of sources of information, quality, lack
of professionalism, etc. Well, before disputing this attitude with questions on accuracy and other shortcomings of traditional media outlets and professional journalists, we can list a selection of advantages that are at
hand of the citizen journalists. One of the most obvious fact is that citizen journalists are faster than traditional media. Furthermore, they do not depend on, often, complicated procedures of publicizing. Citizen journalists
have their smart phone with the camera and they can record and publicize video content from the events (almost) simultaneously, as events take place. Most importantly, citizen journalists reporting is based on ideals
and needs to improve the society. They do not depend on power centers, neither need to withdraw their contributions due to favor or fear.
How do you cope with the fear from negative repercussions from activism and citizen journalism?
This is a question of very high importance to us, at CIVIL. Indeed, we carefully process every bit of information that arrives to our inbox. We are aware that some authors of video footages do not want to reveal their
identity. We also take care not to reveal the identity of the sources, particularly if that may lead to disclosure of the identity of the citizen journalists. We provide the possibility to be anonymous, and take care of our sources. If some material is sensitive, citizen journalists may feel uneasy to post it through their online profiles. Our project provides them with the possibility to process the material, conceal their identity, verify the story, and publicize it on the organization’s media platform. And, all that without pressure from any power center that might be an obstacle to commercial media outlets. This also multiplies the impact and influence of each contribution by citizen journalists.
How come citizen journalism has developed so quickly and is so widespread?
This is easy. The impressive development of the Internet, which has taken gigantic steps in a very short period of time, provided conditions for swift development of citizen journalism. Parallel to that, social networks have
given actual and concrete environment for uninterrupted and uncensored dissemination of media contents and messages. In short, development of communications and technologies (affordable mobile phones, computers,
and sophisticated software) has enabled development of citizen journalism.
What are the risks from citizen journalism?
Citizen journalists are vulnerable, because of the lack of training and situational awareness, which often poses a risk for their lives. While documenting and reporting on unrests, natural disasters or other events, they
often neglect their personal safety. This is one of the areas that need to be improved, and we pay attention to this at our seminars and workshops with citizens who are interested in citizen journalism and activism.
This post is also available in: Macedonian