Citizen journalism: right time at right place?

Internet and broadband access are becoming a commonplace nowadays. Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are representing perhaps even the fastest, broadest and deepest technical change experienced in international development. It is important to look at alternative and activist form of news gathering and reporting, perhaps as response to shortcoming in the professional journalism field, what is called citizen journalism. But what are the risks and challenges of citizen journalism? Especially in times of a world epidemic, when hundreds and thousands of citizen lives over the entire world are affected by the Corona virus? This blog focusses on the challenges and risk of this increasing media phenomenon.

It looks as if citizen journalism is emerging, especially in times of a world epidemic – looking at the video above in with the citizen reporter Chen Qiushi, who reports the outbreak of the Corona virus in an epicenter. Chen Qiushi is a laywer, video blogger and an activist, who sees it as his duty to report as a citizen journalist. Interesting to hear are the words of the China Analyst, who speaks freely about the fact that the videos of the journalist are most likely not positive enough for the Chinese government – as resulted in a crackdown. The citizen journalist is ‘missing’ since the 6th of February 2020, what appeared out of the video that was shared on his Twitter account, managed by a friend after his mother stated that he had gone missing the day before (Source: BBC News).

Citizen journalism can be seen as journalism that is conducted by people who are not professional journalists, but who allocate information via websites, videos, blogs and social media. Especially in disaster zones, citizen journalists provide instant text and visual reporting from the scene. In several countries citizens are affected by political upheaval, whereas print and broadcast media is merely controlled by the government having advanced technological tools to share information about the situation. There are numerous debates going on whether the term citizen journalism is accurate or use terms as participatory journalism or grassroots journalism for instance. Same counts for the criticisms on the fluidity of boundaries between amateur and professional journalists.

Is citizen journalism about being at the right place at the right time or there much more behind? Looking at Chen Qiushi, who does not act as a one-off contributor, it shows that citizen journalists, or activists, are personally engaged and connected. It looks like that many iterations are based on the context and the actors involved, aiming possibly for social or political change. For example by creating networks of like-minded others, like with the doctor who is publishing content on his social media site trying to warn about the severe virus outbreak. Whereas some might aim for building a community or acting for social change by showing their videos and spreading their content, in contrast to traditional news coverages who remain factual and rely on their source material. What remains is: what is the aim and the level of participation of the reporter and its trustworthiness?

What the future of citizen journalism will bring, might be still the question. There are challenges and high risks involved, looking at the missing journalist. Should citizen journalism and traditional journalism benefit each other, go hand in hand or not at all? What about fact tracking? And local community interventions?

How do you feel about citizen journalism and professional journalism?

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