Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Citizen Journalism - The Good, The Bad, and the Individual

Finding citizen journalism to be an interesting topic discussed in class, I decided to challenge myself and create my semester project around it. The project is made up of a research essay and accompanying short film. The project was really taken on as a challenge for myself, and I  plan on using it as a portfolio piece.  Below is a portion of the essay:

"Clay Shirky comes to mind as a prominent figure on the topic of citizen journalism. In June of 2009, Shirky was the speaker at a TED talk focusing on the importance of social media. In the talk, he cites an interesting example of citizen journalism. He mentions the 2008 Sichuan earthquake as an example of citizens breaking the story of the earthquake before any news organization. Essentially, people were reporting the quake as it was happening through online source like Twitter. The aftermath of the earthquake revealed an investiagtion on corruption regarding schools not being built to standards , which caused the deaths of many children. Eventually, the Chinese government shut the public off, and attempted to stop it's citizens from reporting altogether. So why is this story important? For much the same reason Shirky cites this story, I am citing this example as citizen journalism creating a situation which may have otherwise never occured. This situation, overall, acting as a positive social movement, empowering the people involved. Before social media existed, this story could have never taken place. Shirky himself mentions that the last time China had such a large earthquake they were reluctant to even admit it happened. The very existence of social media allowed for people to take a stand against that kind of thinking, and exposed a whole lot more than the Chinese government may have wanted. A similar situation took place during the “Arab Spring”. An article by David Batty, writer for The Guardian, discusses the extensive use of camera phones during the Arab Srping. People were on the streets capturing the events as they were occuring, and uploading them online. This also helped to spread awareness and allow people from the outside to look in and see what was really going on. As a result, there has been a shift in the news media industry. According to the Batty article, “The proliferation and growing quality of citizen media has led some mainstream broadcasters to cut professional photojournalists. CNN is laying off nearly a dozen photojournalists because of the growing use of social media, including iReport, its own citizen photojournalism service.”(Batty P1) Citizen journalism has distinguished itself enough to be noticed by a news giant like CNN. Thus, citizens are being trusted more and more with the information they are presenting as news. But what about when citizens don't present proper news?
The China earthquake and the Arab Srping example represent a positive motion, what about the negative aspect of citizen journalism? Tim Philips, writer for research-live.com, states in an article on citizen journalism, “We no longer have any idea who is shaping the news at any level, and as citizens we can never know enough to separate good research from carefully-disguised bias when we watch or read the news. “(Philips p1) The underlying problem is that, essentially, news is coming from everywhere. Thus, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between what is factually plausible and what is downright biased. This means anyone can come up with a story, send it out into the world, and have that story be viewed objectively by a wide audience who will then further spread that story on. You can look at this concept as being dangerous, as it gives individuals the power to send any message they want, and have it be heard. What's dangerous about this is the notion of spreading bias or untruths.
Take for example the false reports of the late Steve Jobs' death. One particular instance in the fall of 2008 had reports of Jobs' being rushed to the hospital from a sudden heart attack. As a result, stock prices for the company fell. While the reports were completely fabricated, and the company's stock restablized, the power the false story had was enough to drop the stock price in the fisrt place. Jeff Jarvis, writer for BuzzMachine, wrote this about the Jobs incident,
“It may be a mistake for news organizations to keep begging people to send them stuff...But the better structure may be for journalists to curate the best of what is out on the web. Rather than playing wack-a-mole on the occasional mistake/rumor/lie sent it, editors would better serve if they found the best content anywhere, not just among that which was sent to them.”(Jarvis P1)

Jarvis here presents a potential solution for the flow of news on the web. When citizens break news, it comes from all directions, and takes all shapes and forms. The problem is that it's never curated, thus stories like the Jobs' incident gain traction to the point where Apple has to officially state that Jobs is ok. The web is an open forum, and if someone wants a story to exist, it will. The very nature of social media as well as online news organizations allows for citizen journalism to flourish. But how does this affect the individual?"

The full PDF for the essay: Here

The video: Here

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