By Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD
Participatory journalism is otherwise known as Citizen Journalism, ‘Democratic’, Street’ or ‘Public’, journalism as a form of alternative media gives rise to a radical challenge to the professional and institutional practice of the legacy media. The practice of participatory journalism is literally explained by Glasier “people without professional journalism training using the tools of modern technology, the Internet, to achieve global distribution of information by creating or fact-checking the mainstream media.” For example, you might write about how 12 bandits were killed by a joint operation between the police and a local vigilante group in Alkaleri LGA on your blog or just on an online forum. At the same time, you could also fact-check the biases and factual errors of what was reported by a newspaper or any of the legacy media like a broadcast house or newspaper. Better still, you might snap or video record a digital photo of a newsworthy event in your community and post it online on YouTube for worldwide consumption.
The most valuable criterion of news selection in the legacy media is ‘timeliness’, ‘recency’ or ‘freshness’. That is probably why journalists often make mistakes in their reportage because as they compete for being the first to break the news, they leave out the salient facts which have not germinated yet at the time they break the story. Citizen journalists beat professional journalists in this respect because most of the time, newspapers distribute stories that readers have already been hinted at through citizen journalism. At the onset, the discussion of citizen journalism focused on promoting a kind of journalism that was ‘for the people’ by changing how professional reporters did their work. This is because of the advantages presented by new media.
New media technologies such as social networking and media-sharing websites in addition to the increasing prevalence of cellular telephones have made citizen journalism more accessible to people worldwide. Due to the availability of technology, citizens often can report breaking news more quickly than traditional media reporters. Notable examples of citizen journalism reporting from major world events are the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 2013 protests in Turkey, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake
Citizen journalism accompanied the advancement of communication technology or the Internet which made it possible. The practice that average citizens can engage in the practice of journalism has a long history particularly in the United States. Today’s citizen journalist movement emerged after professional journalists themselves began to question the predictability and completeness of coverage of such events as the 1988 US presidential election. The journalists became part of the public or, civic journalism movement, a countermeasure against the eroding trust in the news media and widespread public disillusionment with politics and civic affairs.
In 1999 for example, activists in Seattle created a response to the WTO meeting being held there. The activists knew very well that the only way they could get coverage by the corporate media was by blocking the streets. They also realized that a minute of coverage would show them being carted off by the Police, and that they would not be given any chance to explain why they were protesting. Then they knew they had to create an alternative media model.
Since then, journalism ‘by the people began to flourish, made possible by emerging Internet and networking technologies like weblog, chartrooms, message boards, wiki and mobile computing. In 2000, The Raven launched a web Television station principally targeted at Participatory Journalism, reporting on events in the Daytona Beach area.
In 2004 U.S. presidential election, both the Democrat and Republican parties issued press credentials to citizen bloggers covering their conventions. This marked a new level of influence and credibility for non-legacy journalists. In fact, in developed societies, some bloggers also began ‘watch dogging’ the work of conventional journalists by monitoring their work to check biases and inaccuracy.
Soon after, the term ‘hyperlocal journalism’ was developed by Jeff Jarvis. The team referred to online news sites which invite contributions from local residents of their coverage area, who most of the time report on topics that conventional newspapers ignore. “We are the traditional journalism model turned upside down”, Mary Lou Fulton explains. Going on to say “We are better than community newspaper for having thousands of readers who serve as eyes and ears for the “Voice” rather than having everything filtered through the views of a small group of reporters and editors’.
This Quotation by Fulton reflects the pinnacle of participatory reporting. While it is impossible to have media reporters everywhere in the world, we have citizens all over. Any place where an event is taking place and media reporters are not there, an information gap is created; but because citizen journalism could be everywhere, it means this information gap is literally bridged.
Participatory or citizen journalism has worked successfully in prosecuting change in many parts of the world. In June 2009, after their presidential election, hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran. Citizens took photographs of violent clashes, and images began to leak out. This was after foreign journalists had effectively been barred from reporting. So also, when Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was being hanged, the video footage was recorded by a mobile phone and subsequently, the International Media accessed and made reference to it.
In generating public awareness and ensuring fast communication among revolutionary activists in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen, during the Arab Spring, Citizen Journalism played a great role. Citizens served both as activists and as reporters. And in 2004 when the 9.1- magnitude under water earthquake caused a huge tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia and across the Indian Ocean, a weblog-based virtual network of previously unrelated bloggers emerged which covered the news in real-time and became a vital source for the traditional media during the first week after the tsunami.
Citizen Journalism is situated within the broad spectrum discussion of alternative media to form a radical challenge to the institutionalized and professionalized practice of the legacy media.
There are, mainly, two broad categories of citizen journalism under which fall several subcategories. These categories are semi-independent and fully independent citizen journalism. Semi-Independent Citizen Journalism is citizens contributing in many ways to existing professional news sites which takes the following forms:
- Audience posting their comments accompanying stories done by professional reporters;
- Readers add their information to the stories and articles written by professional journalists;
- Readers participate and work with professional reporters in pulling together a story.. A reporter might ask readers with a bit of expertise in a particular area to send him/her information on that area. The piece of information is then incorporated into the final story; Investigative journalism makes use of this type more;
- Reader blogs that are integrated into professional news websites.
On the flipside, fully Independent Citizen Journalism is the type that has no connection with news sites or professional journalism. It involves citizens freely sharing information and interacting with one another through such sites as YouTube and Facebook. Registering on these sites automatically means that one has become a “personal reporter”, actively distributing information and consuming information from others. People form interest groups which are called virtual or online communities constantly sharing information by the minute These sites, according to Lasica include independent news and information sites like
- . Consumer Reports, the Drudge Reporter etc.
- Full-fledged participatory news sites e.g. one: Convo, Nowpublic, GroundReport, etc.
- . Collaborative and contributory media sites eg Slashdot, Newsvine etc
- Thin Media e.g. mailing lists and email letters
- Personal broadcasting sites e.g. Video broadcast sites like kenRadio.
The basic difference between legacy journalism for radio or television house and citizen journalism is simply the difference between “covering” and “sharing” of information. While traditional journalists boast of investigating deeply and covering many viewpoints, citizen journalists are always proud that they are everywhere, their information is current and there is less tendency for bias because they have no profit motive behind the stories; they are impartial! The logic here is since the legacy media are paid by advertisers, they have to be “politically correct”.
For citizen Journalists not being paid, while it denotes purity of intention, at the same time in amounts to poorly written pieces and much content emanating from those especially politicians with undisguised axes to grind.
Stories from citizen journalists go to audiences raw without any tendency to alter, edit or even be rejected by an editor. While escaping these steps seems to be a great source of value to citizen journalism, at the same time the stories cannot be wholly reliable because there is no room for authenticating, verifying or ascertaining them. Thus citizen journalism gives the reader a wider spectrum of opinions and information to consider and a bigger headache in sorting out the wheat from the chaff.
Canon for Participatory Journalism
Though it is a free and independent endeavour, citizen journalism must be guided by some tenets for it to be effective, indirectly to ensure quality information sharing and exchange at grassroots level. These simple tenets are also the principles guiding ethical professional journalism: accuracy, fairness, thoroughness transparency and independence interview and resourcefulness. So long as citizens would respect those principles, the society would naturally eschew fake news, hate speech and mischief-making.
Accuracy means Stories must reflect exactly what happened; the facts must be correct, the numbers exact, etc. Fairness denotes that if there are opposing sides, the citizen journalist should give the viewpoints of both sides with respect; while Thoroughness is that stories should not be haphazard. The citizen journalist must go the extra mile to look for answers to all the questions that the reader of the story is likely to ask.
Transparency means that all kinds of opacity must be removed in the story. The participatory journalist must try to disclose everything. Disclosure is a key ingredient in gaining the trust of readers.– Independency is closely related to objectivity. The citizen reporter must prevent his sentiments or other influences from creeping into the story. The citizen should follow the story wherever it leads. Interview: The citizen journalist should try to get as many interested parties as possible talk about the issue otherwise you run the risk of presenting a story as an ignorant person. Tap deeply into the wisdom of the community.
Resourcefulness point to the fact, to be reliable one has to use as much resources as it is possible at his disposal. Visual resources should augment audio or textual ones.
Apparently the new media with all its attendant features portray a prospect of possessing the quality of producing more equality and more liberated societies. Anybody who wants to speak, provides ready access, and content is delivered unmediated by the powerful interests of print media or the channels of broadcasting. By implication, this means somebody does not have to be rich and powerful in order to have a presence on the World Wide Web. But in spite of these gleaming prospects of the new media, we must also not forget that they are efficient vehicles for widening social and information hierarchies among individuals and societies, giving rise to “information underclass” and “social underclass”. For short, this stems from the fact that it is the better-off that first acquire, then upgrade the technology; and for this reason, they are always ahead of the poor. And in terms of the social stratifications of owning and having access to the computer for example, the new media are no different from the old media in creating social divides in society.
Apparently, the new media with all its attendant features portray a prospect of possessing the quality of producing more equality and more liberated societies. Anybody who wants to speak, they provide ready access, and contents are delivered unmediated by the powerful interest of print media or the channels of broadcasting. By implication, this means somebody does not have to be rich and powerful in order to have presence on the World Wide Web. But in spite of these gleaming prospects of the new media, we must also not forget that they are also efficient vehicles for widening social and information gaps among individuals and societies giving rise to “information underclass” and “social underclass”. For short, this stems from the fact that it is the better-off that first acquire, then upgrade the technology; and for this reason, they are always ahead of the poor. And in terms of the social stratifications of owning and having access to the computer for example, the new media are no different from the old media in creating social gaps in society.
In spite of the many cons of participatory journalism, the general public should be encouraged through the legacy media to join the social network sites to promote human rights, public health and factual political information on which public opinion can be guided to create the necessary leadership required for development.
Media should also take the task of creating media literacy on the general public on the basic principles of citizen journalism as afore stated, as that can ameliorate the tendencies of spreading rumors to online communities as news.
Media and public information services should have standing units that subscribe to and monitor large popular local online communities or social network communities to be abreast with true public agenda and the stories that are filling the public information gap, and general public should be discouraged from posting details about their movements and personal affairs online as this could heighten security risks. In addition, for security reasons and other beneficial ones, laws seeking to permit government and security agencies screen through social media handles of individuals should be enacted to increase public safety.
Finally, well meaning individuals and civil society should establish websites or social media pages dedicated to fact-checking to dispel rumors circulated on social media, in order to discourage citizen journalists spreading fake news with evil motives