Citizen journalism and mainstream media

A matter of ethics and aesthetics

New media activism is also called tactical media for some scholars (for example, Garcia and Lovink). In their words “tactical media do not just report events, as they are never impartial they always participate and it is this that more than anything separates them from mainstream media”. (Garcia & Lovink)

This approach somehow challenges Lievrouw (2011), who says that participatory journalism projects employ the ethics and practices of professional new reporting and editorial opinion to cover communities, stories, and points of view that are neglected by the mainstream press. (Lievrouw, 2011, pp. 19-20)

One can say that impartiality and objectivity are values on the ground of journalism, in theory and practice. And obviously, when citizen journalists employ new media tools and channels to broadcast news and information on facts, situations, and points of views that are neglected from the mainstream media, they barely give voice to the spokespersons of the power it has been fight against. And, in my personal opinion, I do not think they should, as the representatives of power have enough space to express their ideology and discourses within traditional, mass media. I think media activists speaking on behalf of underprivileged, marginalized social groups have their own right to convey messages from their point of view. I just think this ought to be clear for everybody who is reading or watching it.

So, I tend to agree more with Garcia and Lovink, when they states that there is a distinctive tactical ethic and aesthetic. The tactical media ethic and aesthetic, in my opinion, are quite different from the ethic and aesthetic of professional mainstream journalism.
For instance, Jurrat in her article Mapping Digital Media: Citizen Journalism and the Internet, published on Media Development says that “citizen journalists have become regular contributors to mainstream new through digital advances, providing information and images. (…) On sites like CNN iReport, editorial gatekeeping is left to the audience: uploaded content will be published unedited as long as it is considered news (as distinct from advertising, for example) and respects principles of taste and decency.

However, take a video produced by Collective Mosireen, a non-profit Egyptian media centre born out of the explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism in Egypt during the revolution, for example, the Maspero Massacre. Many of us will agree that its strong images are undeniable nasty, though, in my personal opinion the tragedy that it reports has to be broadcast, it is a story that needs to be told.

Nevertheless, one could say that this nastiness is part of their aesthetic in order to raise awareness among their people. They want to shock. It is a guerrilla strategy. So, would CNN use these images? I am skeptical about that given that I do not believe such images meet their principles of taste and decency. So, if they use it, they will probably edit it, and thus, the discourse constructed by the Mosireen media activists would lose power.

Concluding, I think there are constraints and issues on the relationship between citizen journalism and traditional media. In my opinion,  just like in some failed marriages, there are irreconcilable differences between them.

By Cristina Souza


Garcia, David & Lovink, Geert. The ABC of Tactical Media / The DEF of Tactical Media Retrieved October 17, 2012 from

Jurrat, Nadine. Mapping Digital media: Citizen Journalism and the Internet Retrieved October 2, 2012 from

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1 comment

  1. It’s true what you say about citizen journalism. But perhaps as a journalist I find the idea of citizen journalism quite scary. Perhaps mostly because of what you say, that the ethical and aesthetic features of it are significantly different from within journalism. (And I would like to refrain from calling it, “mainstream journalism,” since I feel that it bears with it connotations of the journalist adhering to the norms set by the political powers. Great journalists are known as cats–you never know when they will bite the hand that feeds them.) Citizen journalism is in a sense NOT journalism since it does not at all adhere to what you also mention, the fundamental ideas of journalism–objectivity and neutrality. Citizen journalism very much has an agenda and a specific intent to showcase certain perspectives. The fact that it’s news published by non-journalists and people who do not subscribe to journalism codes also means that other ethics within journalism is ignored. This means that photos can be edited and quotes made up. There are for example several cases reported when news that have been published via CNN’s iReport have turned out to be fabricated. Citizen journalism is not a reliable source of information. Within journalism there should always be an aspiration to report the many faces of truth, within citizen journalism you cannot expect more than the citizen who reports version of truth. As a journalism professor was quoted saying a long time ago: “It’s gossip. Where’s the training, experience, standards and skills essential to gather and report news? It opens up the news flow to the strong possibility of fraud and abuse.” (

    Another important factor is of course also the danger that might face citizen journalists that don’t have the same legal cover that journalists might have.

    However, this does not mean that I don’t agree that citizen journalism is an important part in providing knowledge that might otherwise be overseen, I just don’t agree with coining it journalism.

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