The good and bad of citizen journalism

By Lindsey Yoneda

Citizen journalism is changing the way the world receives news. Technology has made it easier than ever for the public to share breaking news, sometimes even faster than a reporter might be able to arrive on the scene. This gives people more access to information at faster rate.

In today’s world of instant communication and social media, theoretically anyone with a smartphone can be a journalist.

On Jan. 15, 2009, we saw the importance of citizen journalism when Janis Krums, a passenger on a nearby ferry, broke the news of a plane crashing in the Hudson River 15 minutes before any other news outlet had the chance. All it took was a simple picture tweeted out to Krums’ 170 followers for the news to go viral. CNN describes this TwitPic as “the first and best example of citizen journalism” (CNN). Within days, a regular citizen’s cellphone picture was on the cover of major newspapers.

Since then, more and more news outlets have used the community as a resource to gather news. Whether it’s through crowd sourcing or photos sent in by citizens, journalists have found a way to get the community involved.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln journalism professor Michelle Hassler believes building a trust with an audience is a powerful tool for news outlets.

“Journalists can’t be everywhere,” Hassler said. “Journalism is going in a direction where citizens play a big part in helping the media.”

We see many more journalists using social media as a tool to reach out for help on their stories, and it works.

But can we trust everything we see on the internet? Of course not. With an infinite amount of information comes an infinite amount of inaccuracies that can be spread within seconds.

Journalists are journalists because they have formal training in fact-checking and reporting. It’s up to news organizations to verify these rumors that spread like wildfire on social media outlets. But sometimes they fuel these fires, as in the case of a Buzzfeed article that played into the far-fetched social media speculation that Sandra Bland was already dead in her mugshot . In cases such as these, news outlets add more to the confusion rather than uncovering the truth and reporting on it.

In a time when fake news is rampant, it’s hard to know when a tweet is something to be taken seriously or if it’s yet another “internet troll.” We can debate whether it is helping or hurting the media, but citizen journalism is not going away.
“It is bad when media outlets have to continuously debunk things going around on the internet,” Hassler said. “But it’s very powerful when citizens are willing to help.”

The internet changed the way journalism functioned and it seems that citizen journalism is another huge step in the progression of journalism. It’ll take some trial and error to figure out the best way to integrate a new resource into an already established routine. But all we can do is help citizens help journalists and hope that everyone checks their facts.

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