What Is Citizen Journalism?

A Look at What We Mean By Citizen Journalism

Two businessmen (no faces) sitting at a table recording a podcast
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Put very simply, citizen journalism is when private individuals do essentially what professional reporters do - report information. That information can take many forms, from a podcast editorial to a report about a city council meeting on a blog. It can include text, pictures, audio and video. But it's basically all about communicating information of some kind.

The other main feature of citizen journalism is that it's usually found online.

In fact, the emergence of the Internet - with blogs, podcasts, streaming video and other Web-related innovations - is what has made citizen journalism possible.

The Internet gave average people the ability to transmit information globally. That was a power once reserved for only the very largest media corporations and news agencies.

Citizen journalism can take many forms. Steve Outing of Poynter.org and others have outlined many different types of citizen journalism. Below I've condensed Outing's "layers" of citizen journalism and placed them into two main categories: semi-independent and fully independent.

Semi-Independent Citizen Journalism

This involves citizens contributing, in one form or another, to existing professional news sites. Some examples:

  • Readers posting their comments alongside stories done by professional reporters - essentially a 21st-century version of the letter to the editor. A growing number of news websites allow readers to post comments. In an effort to prevent obscene or objectionable messages, many websites require that readers register in order to post.
  • Readers adding their information to articles done by professional journalists. For instance, a reporter may do an article about disparities in gas prices around town. When the story appears online, readers can post information about gas prices in areas not covered in the original story, and even offer tips on where to buy cheaper gas.

  • Readers actively working with professional reporters in putting together a story. A reporter might ask that readers with expertise in a particular area send him or her information on that topic, or even do some of their own reporting. That information is then incorporated into the final story.

  • Reader blogs that are incorporated into professional news websites. That can includes blogs in which readers critique how the news organization is performing.

    Example: Lawrence Blogs

Independent Citizen Journalism

This involves citizen journalists working in ways that are fully independent of traditional, professional news outlets.

  • Blogs in which individuals can report on events in their communities or offer commentary on the issues of the day.


    Life Must Go On In Gaza & Sderot

    Franklin Avenue

  • Websites run by an individual or a group of people that report on news events in the local community. Some have editors and screen content, others do not. Some even have print editions.


    Daily Heights


    A slight variation on this theme would be Wikinews, a site similar to Wikipedia, in which anyone can post and edit stories.

  • Hybrid sites in which professional and citizen journalists work together.

    Example: Bluffton Today

    Where Does Citizen Journalism Stand Now?

    In the early 2000s, citizen journalism was hailed as a revolution that would make news-gathering a more democratic process, one that would no longer solely be the province of professional reporters. But today citizen journalism remains a work in progress that has yet to fulfill such grandiose hopes. One problem: citizen journalism has been marred by inaccurate reporting, such as reports during Superstorm Sandy that the New York Stock Exchange had been flooded.

    And with most citizen journalists not being paid for their work, it seems unrealistic to expect them to have the same commitment to their work that the paid professionals do. That's a problem that doesn't seem likely to disappear any time soon.

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