Online Media’s All-Seeing Eye

By Alex Dibble

For news websites citizen journalism is now a widely used source of online content.

In fact, it’s so widely used that we as consumers often don’t notice we’re watching it, unless the video is of noticeably poor quality, or unless the footage is very obviously being shot in a rushed or unplanned manner.

A very good example is this video, taken by motorists on the A1(M) in January 2010.

Without the footage, the incident didn’t even make the local news. Two months later the video was uploaded onto YouTube, the story became a national item and it was taken up by news media across the country.

This particular video nicely illustrates one of the questions we must pose when defining citizen journalism. What’s the difference between an eye-witness and a citizen journalist?

Does anyone and everyone become a citizen journalist merely because they own a phone?

It’s important to appreciate that as a crucial element of user generated news content, citizen journalism is produced by people who aren’t journalists by trade. Instead, they just happen to be in the right place at the right time.

For this reason the motorway footage just mentioned is a perfect example, because only a handful of people (those also on the A1(M) at the time) could have captured the event taking place. A professional journalist could never have been there – it was statistically improbable and logistically impossible.

However, had a professional journalist been there, they would have chosen to report on such a remarkable event. And this is the point: citizen journalism doesn’t create stories – stories create themselves. But citizen journalism provides a way for stories that wouldn’t otherwise make the news to do just that.

Citizen journalism also provides news media with a source of content as wide and deep as the population itself – a reach that would be impossible to possess if the tools of modern technology did not incorporate Joe Bloggs into the media realm as a contributor.

Suddenly a phone (while not turning everyone into citizen journalists) means that an event which happened in front of just a few, can be distributed to a few million. As soon as it’s uploaded online it’s there to stay and news media reaps the benefits.

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