What is Citizen Journalism?
Citizen Journalism, is the natural result of the fact that in today’s world, where it seems like everyone owns a smartphone, it has become easier than ever to share events with the world as they unfold right in front of your eyes. People are syndicating content via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Ustream and with thousands of mobile applications that give us the tools to report on the news virtually anywhere, we are seeing a revolution in the way information is distributed to the masses.
Citizen journalism also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic”,”guerrilla” or “street journalism” is the concept of members of the public playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.
I have been involved in blogging (read: citizen journalism) now for a couple of years, but it has only been in the last year or so that I have realized the impact I can make simply as another person with a video camera and a smartphone. Yesterday was a perfect example of this as I was able to witness and capture an amazing event that I was thrilled to see end positively.
My Citizen Journalist Experience – The Burrard Bridge Jumper on Ustream
As I woke this morning and looked out my bedroom window at the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver, it was an unusual scene. A normally bustling bridge on a Saturday morning was mysteriously quiet. In fact, there was no traffic on it, which led me to believe there must be some kind of protesting bike rally or a celebrity in town. After a closer look, I realized that there was a man on the outside edge of the bridge with two police officers there trying to coax him to step over the ledge to safety.
I don’t know the background on the man or why he had resorted to this extreme act, but my first thought was that I hoped I didn’t see him jump off that bridge!!! My second thought was, I need to capture this on video. My third thought was, why just capture it on video to upload later when I could stream it live online.
So, with that thought in mind, with the assistance of a friend who is also a multimedia producer, we quickly setup two video cameras, captured photos with a digital SLR and I opened up the Ustream Broadcaster application on my new iPhone 4 to stream the video live online.
By streaming the video live online, I was able to capture this amazing and disturbing event as it unfolded right before my eyes. And, I was able to share it with others that were talking about the incident online (click on Twitter Search image to the right). Here’s some of the footage we captured during the 2hrs this man was hanging precariously off the edge of Burrard Bridge.
You can check out the video I captured as a Citizen Journalist via the Ustream Broadcaster iPhone on my Ustream channel. Or, watch this shortened version that we put together to upload to YouTube.
The Negative Impact of Citizen Journalism
There is no doubt that social media can be an amazing tool that connects people around the world and allows us to share information in a way that has never been possible before. Alternatively, social media has been shown to highlight things in this world that some people would rather not see.
Gang Rape Photos Uploaded To Facebook
A recent example of this is the disturbing story about a 16 yr old girl that was raped at a Pitt Meadows, BC rave party. The event was captured in photos and video and distributed on Facebook. The police have since arrested the young man responsible for posting the content on his Facebook page, but have not been able to stop the mass distribution of this content since it has surfaced online.
An article recently written in the Vancouver Sun titled “Gang rape photos show how social media can unleash Pandora’s box of evil” focused on the thought that technology can have a dark side. And, that the evil associated with this incident has been spread further than would have been imaginable just 15 years ago. The article goes on to state:
While a few laws have been put in place to deal with the Internet’s unparalleled ability to spread child pornography and invade privacy, it won’t be simple for governments and businesses to preserve Internet freedom while further protecting human decency.
It can’t be argued that Citizen Journalism and Social Media can have a dark side as this incident has clearly shown. But, I would argue that for all of the negative impact that social media and the sharing of content has had on the world, there are equally as many positive world changing impacts that social media has had on society.
The Positive Impact Of Citizen Journalism
By no means am I trying to diminish the events that took place in Pitt Meadows, BC, but I think it’s important that we look at all side of how social media is impacting the world that we live in. Here are just a few examples in the past few years that have shown the amazing power of social media and citizen journalism.
The US Presidential campaign orchestrated by Barack Obama was one that has shown how social media can rally the masses and empower people to influence change. Rather than resorting to traditional methods of reaching voters, Barack Obama and his team devised a plan to empower the people to help spread his word. The Obama campaign is a shining example that shows the power of social media to influence social change.
The My Barack Obama is a platform that was created to join the online community of organizers who inevitibly helped elect President Obama and now work to bring real change on critical issues, including healthcare, education and energy reform.
China Earthquake – May 2008
On the afternoon of May 12, 2008, a 7.9-magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan Province, a mountainous region in Western China, killing about 70,000 people and leaving over 18,000 missing. The earthquake was being reported on as it was happening….by people on the ground. In fact, BBC got its first wind of the earthquake on Twitter.
The last time there was an earthquake like this in China…it took them 3 months to admit that it happened. This time, the government learned of the earthquake from its citizens. Within half a day, donation sites were up and money was pouring in from around the world.
Haiti Earthquake – January 2010
With many of the official lines of communication down, user-generated content played an important role in spreading news about the Haiti earthquake. Social media partly made up for the lack of information from the affected area on what had happened and what was most needed.
Additionally, social media played a major factor in raising awareness of events focused around raising funds to assist the families affected by this devastating natural disaster. One of many examples of this was an event that I was fortunate to participate in called YYC4Haiti. YYC4Haiti was a fundraising event held in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that was coordinated and promoted via social media. The event was a tremendous success that resulted in $35,000 raised ($70,000 after a Canadian federal government dollar-for-dollar match).
I am reminded how I played a bit-roll in another worldly event made “REAL” through Citizen Journalism and Social Media. While walking in Vancouver in June 2009, I came across a protest. This isn’t that unusual, there are many small protests in Vancouver. But, while witnessing this particular one, I was compelled to communicate what I was seeing.
I to decided to “BE THE CHANGE”, as Ghandi used to ask of us.
I knew my little slice of perception was just a tiny bit of information in the stream. I mean, obviously the Iranians themselves were the leaders in the information exchange, but then the world responded, and united with the soul intent of RETWEETING, and passing along the truth. So I decided to add my bit of information to the stream. Because that is really the point. My bit of information, when compiled with everyone else’s bits of information become first Kilobytes, then Megobytes, Gigabytes, then Terrabytes and beyond. With this flow of information, we all gain power collectively, which benefits us collectively, even if we must be exposed to, and have the courage to, learn from the negative images that are sometimes carried along, caught up in this TORRENT of Information.
The Rise Of Social Media and Citizen Journalism
There are both good and bad aspects to the seemingly unlimited amounts of information we now have access to. Many people are fearful of this change in the way information is distributed and would argue that social media has given creeps, young or old, a platform to devastate the lives of others (as evident by the “Facebook Rape” incident). However, I hope that I have shown through the examples I listed in this article that social media can also have a profound impact on society in a positive way that has never been possible before.
The fact is, people need to be aware that anything posted on the internet is in the public domain and exists forever. Therefor, educating the masses is critical going forward. Regulation by governments and businesses is not going to solve any kind of “problem” with social media. It would only contribute to the mass rising of a new generation of people that are now accustomed to having near instant access to information that isn’t filtered by the media, government or business.
Citizen Journalism is causing a shift in way we see the world and will continue to grow as more and more people understand the impact they can have on the world one Tweet, Facebook post and YouTube video at a time.
Clay Shirky talks about “How Social Media Can Make History”
In researching this topic for this article, I came across a Ted Talk video by Clay Shirky titled “How Social Media Can Make History”. Clay’s closing remarks really hammered home the idea that we are truly experiencing a revolution and we must adjust our way of thinking to accommodate this new world. Here are his final words and the Ted Talk video:
The media landscape that we knew, as easy and conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs, is increasingly slipping away. In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap. In a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants. In that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups. And the choice we face, I mean anybody who has a message they want heard, anywhere in the world. Isn’t whether that’s the media environment we want to operate in, that’s the media environment we got. The question we all face now is, how can we make best use of this medium, even though it means changing the way we’ve always done it.
Information Revolution will Mature Thanks to Social Media and Citizen Journalism
The Information Revolution is a long time coming, building towards what they call in media production, The Big Reveal. It began with our ability to perceive energy, or ideas into the space surrounded us. We then sought to share this information, so it then moved forward with language, then the printing press, radio and television (commonly referred to as “traditional” media). Next, some major advances with the invention of computers which would quickly be tied together by phone lines so they could share information at the speed of light across the world. When ubiquitous recording devices and an explosion of bandwidth, and miniaturization of hardware, recording and display devices appeared, serving to amplify our INFORMATION, into that torrent in which we are all now contributors to, even if our contributions are just bit parts.
Citizen Journalism and Social Media must be understood as the blessing that it is, and we must quickly come to terms with the fact that with good comes a burden and a responsibility to not fear the change. Rather we must “Be The Change”.
Citizen Journalism Causing Change
Citizen Journalists are the make up the vehicle that is driving our access to a massive amount of information via social media. They have allowed for the flow of the Information maturing in this Information Revolution to reach an inflection point, a tipping point unmatched in human history. And for those of us who are, from time-to-time, blessed with a measure of awareness known for a fleeting moment of calm and clarity when we feel we have the right information, we are prepared to make wise choices. We have options. Good comes from this state of our individual minds, as to does it for our global mind, which is the very battle ground that will lead will (hopefully), lead our youth to learn from their mistakes on a global scale, just as they make them for the whole world to see –as was the case in The Facebook Rape.
Social Media and Citizen Journalism will ultimately be the vehicle for our betterment, if we can only prevent falling victim to fear, and avoid resorting to destruction this REVOLUTION. These fears come from both those who are the controllers of information and those who are effected by it. It once was that only the powerful few controlled the information, and the powerless many were forced to live with the consequences. Now, with this revolution, the information, for the first time, is being controlled by the many (the general population). The powerful few won’t want this to happen because they will loose their influence. The general population may not want it because they fear what they don’t understand. As with any new power, it must be understood to be used wisely, and this only will happen with time.
Disheartening things do happen, many things that we’d wish we have never seen. But, to me, this reveals only areas we can improve upon. If we can get past this threat, we will be poised to witness a GLOBAL BIG REVEAL, where the FLOODGATES of information that we document for ourselves will allow for our awareness of the issues of this human condition, both ripe with triumph and trauma so that the traumas that we averted today may happen more often. So that we are not only aware of the leaders we want to elect, and issues we want to support, but we can also directly impact the results of the elections, and the actions of our organized bodies. We can cause change. We do contribute to movements. We will grow in our ability govern ourselves more effectively, and incorruptibly when we are informed. This is the purpose of the Information Revolution for the greater good.
What are your thoughts on this subject? Do you think social media is causing more harm than good in society today? How do you get your news…..from traditional media or social media? Do you contribute to the Steam of our awareness as a Citizen Journalist?
This article was written in collaboration with my business colleague, Mike Olaski. Mike is a Strategist, Designer and Entrepreneur who designs and develops solutions for business and pleasure. He is currently focused on developing his own Multi-Media Website Communities utilizing WordPress, BuddyPress and several custom built WordPress Plugins and Themes.
He is currently in production of a Make Money Online Community called “Passion Profits” which provides a system for creating wealth onlin with website businesses through teaching people how to do earn a living wage by doing just about anything they love.