Online Journalism and its imposter relative; Citizen Journalism

Essay by entiqeCollege, UndergraduateD+, March 2014

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Online Journalism Essay

May 6, 2010

Online Journalism and its imposter relative; Citizen Journalism


The topic I have chosen for my essays centre's around online journalism

and the growth in citizen journalism, as a result of this. In

the course of my essay, I am going to look at some of the origins online

journalism since the end of the 20th century. I will look at the relationship

that has emerged between online users and media agencies as a result of this

growth. I will then examine what kind of effect this relationship has had on

citizen journalism in an online context.

There are many challenges working in the field of digital journalism.

Kawamoto states that "Digital Journalism is a difficult concept to define

precisely because it can mean different things to different people. In fact,

the term is juxtaposition of old and new concepts[1]."

Kawamoto proposed a definition of digital journalism - "The use of digital

technologies to research, produce, and deliver (or make accessible) news

and information to an increasingly computer-literate audience."

While this

definition broadly covers the main areas that are compassed in digital

journalism, it also highlights one major problem which is blurring

professional lines; anybody can be a journalist.

Pavilik showed how changing technologies have influenced journalism in

four main areas; how journalists do their work; the content of news; the

structure or organization of the newsroom; and the relationships between

or among news organizations, journalists and their many publics[2]. Citizen

journalism directly affects three out of these four areas.

The internet has provided key changes in the media/societal

relationships[3]. The media has become more democratized because

of online journalism as new technologies allow for greater participation; i-

pad's, i-phone's, Blackberry's, Mobile Phones, Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter


"The successful local paper of today has gone far towards, and is prophetic

of, the larger local journalism which will parallel the needs of the primary

unit of democracy, the small town. But it has only begun to realize the

possibilities of its field from the standpoint of intensive cultivation, both on

the news and business sides. In the town today, there is a growing need for

intercommunication between people."

- Harris and Hooke[4] (1993, p viii)

Well before the age of the internet, the importance of interaction between

community members and newspapers has been recognized. For a

newspaper to be successful even on a national level, it needs to engage with

its audience. In a technological age of information, this is even truer[5].

Not only does online journalism need to engage with its community in a

relevant manner, but it also needs to feed them constant, timely news. As

Imfeld and Scott stated[6], "… the traditional relationship between

newspapers and readers is changing."

In a survey carried out in 2002[7], out of the 143 million Americans who

said they used the internet monthly, more than 90 million of them had

participated in some form of participation online; a feature which is only

becoming more and more common.

In recent years, the popularity of blogs[8] has increased ten-fold, many of

which have a journalistic category to them. Many of them are not written

by journalists. As Artwick[9] stated "And, what about Weblogs… are they

journalism?… Blogs can act as catalysts… flag ideas that the news media can

cover in greater depth… shape readers…"

But as Artwick pointed out, information posted to a blog, or any other form

of online media for that matter, cannot be trusted. A journalist or news

agency does not know if the information is reliable until it is possibly too

late. It is essential that the information digital media uses from online

sources stand up to the test of credibility, just as strongly as traditional

sources. This is one of the major flaws of citizen journalism.

Not only do new technologies allow for new ways for society to stay in

constant contact with each other, but they also provide new ways to make

media production much more accessible[10]. If non-journalists witness a

news-worthy event occurring they can take a picture or video of it with

their phone, update their friends about it on various social networking sites,

create a blog post on their website about the event they just witnessed or

email the information into a prominent news agency within minutes of the

event happening. Not only is the media online now potentially available to

millions of people, but it also potentially being created from millions

of different people; people who aren't journalists. They are 'citizens' of our

society, who are becoming integral to the collection and dissemination of

news stories. Our content is being generated by online users for other

online users.

While on the surface, the practice of citizen journalism may seem like a

positive trend which allows for coverage of major news events to be

widespread and instant, as I already examined, there is no way to verify

online user media content until it is possibly too late. Even in the early days

of the internet, when there wasn't as much information and sources to sift

through as there is today, problems arose from citizen journalism.

Following the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995[11], Newsday, USA

Today and The Dallas Morning News among others stated that the

bombings had been carried out by a militia group, citing a post on the

group's website as the source. The website was false and had been created

by a student at the University of Montana.

After 9/11, more and more Americans turned to the internet to stay

updated about the war in Iraq[12]. "Warblogs" by citizen journalists

became common place[13]. Citizen journalism is a trend that continues to

grow and grow. Daily Kos[14] is a liberal daily weblog which gets more

views daily than most newspapers[15]. is purely citizen

journalism website[16]. Its content is generated, moderated and

updated by the ordinary members of the community in Vermont.

Wikipedia[17] is an online encyclopaedia that is a complete web-based,

collaborative effort. Anybody can edit or post an entry on to Wikipedia. It

is not a reliable source in anyway; yet in 2006 it was reported that

Wikipedia was the 12th most viewed website daily[18].

Online journalism now allows for communities to be at the heart [19] of

informative news flow. Acts of journalism can now be performed by

anybody. Tech News World says that bloggers who break news

stories ahead of mainstream media appear "to be a new and emerging breed

of journalist[20]." The Mumbai attacks demonstrated the power of social

networking sites like Twitter to break major news events. Within minutes of

terror attacks in Mumbai, India, Twitter, blogs and other social networking

sides had a plethora or pictures, videos and eye-witness accounts being

posted online[21]. A lot of the information which was published online by

these citizen journalists was picked up by global news agencies and used in

their broadcast.


Online journalism has created a dramatic change not only in how we view

our news, but where our news comes from. Acts of citizen journalism have

always occurred in the media, but due to the wide-spread digital element of

journalism these acts are now being more frequent and prominent in our

news information. In our digitized society, the question is no longer who is

a journalist, but what is journalism[22].

While acts of citizen journalism have enabled society to gain information

about sudden events faster, it is not a reliable source of information for the

profession of journalism to be depending on. As Robinson[23] stated, "…

journalist's compose the map to yesterday so that the country can navigate

a similar situations tomorrow… through a lends of hindsight, politicizing it

and polishing its memory as they propose agendas for change." However, I

don't believe that this is a trend that is going to disappear.

Standards are set in the profession of journalism for a reason. NUJ

members need to abide by a Code of Conduct[24] in order to ensure that

their work is of the highest standards. Citizen journalists do not need to

abide by such code. Their work doesn't need to be unbiased, well written or

even true in some cases. The truth of the matter is that the availability of

citizen journalism is just too tempting for the media to pass up. Online

journalism has changed everybody's news that they receive; whether

you use the internet or not. But Ordonez[25] made an important point to

remember when dealing with citizen journalism. "While it is true that

journalists are communication professionals, the reverse does not hold

true. "