2.21.2010

Citizen Journalists

Are ordinary citizens becoming more like journalists while journalists become more like ordinary citizens?

Using social media, journalists are able to gauge audience needs, get information about stories, and interact with their community in a way previously unimaginable - this makes reporting the news a more social experience. By engaging in social media, journalists seem to be behaving more like ordinary citizens.

Using social media, ordinary citizens no longer receive the news as simply an incoming message; rather, they are able to interact with their news. With social networking sites like Twitter and TwitPic - ordinary citizens now have the ability to "report" their own news or contribute their knowledge to the news stories being reported. In this way, ordinary citizens are acting much like journalists.

The way we present and receive news is changing. There's no doubt about it.

Well, really, it's been changing for a long time.

  • We used to get news after the fact, in the form of a paper delivered the morning (or several mornings) after events occurred.
  • Then we moved to listening to the news on the radio.
  • Then, we began watching the breaking news on the television. At this point, we really began receiving our news as it occurred.
  • With technological advances, many people began reading the news online. This allowed us to receive our news at a moment by moment pace with updates as they occurred.
  • Now, most of us continue to get our news online. New sites have begun allowing readers to post comments on news stories, and many journalists and newspapers have a presence on social networking sites; therefore, we now receive our news in an interaction of written story, conversation engagement, and media (photos, videos, and pictures).
To examine the roles of ordinary citizens and professional journalists in the changing news landscape, let’s take a look at the events that occurred this week in Austin, TX and how they unfolded online. For those who do not know, yesterday a man flew a plane into a Northwest office building that housed IRS offices.

Within minutes of the event, ordinary citizens were calling news stations to explain what they had seen. Additionally, people in the area started posting TwitPics to their Twitter profiles. As journalists got word of the story, they started to reach out to their audience on Twitter seeking more information. See below from the @statesman Twitter account.


As you can see in this example, the journalists were reaching out hoping to get photos and interviews from people near and around the scene of the event, and people were responding. At this point, many ordinary citizens were able to post photos and videos before the news crews even arrived at the scene.

On Twitter, journalists were engaging in social media just like many of us do - to carry on a conversation, to see what's going on around us, and to respond to those who seek information from us.

Ordinary citizens, posting pictures, videos, and updates from the scene were acting like journalists -reporting the news to the their followers.

Nearby businesses posted their news..
Austin colleges posted their news..
And citizens engaged with journalists... 
 

Before social media, I think it was probably rare for a journalist to call up a news reader on the phone and say “hey, do you know anything about what’s going on with the plane crash?” Thanks to Twitter though, journalists could see who had what information, and contact them accordingly.Also, I think before social media news readers rarely had a chance to comment back on the news stories, except for the occassional op-ed piece.

Twitter also made it easier for us to find the news we wanted to see. This is another important feature of news providers using social media - allowing selective readers to search for news they want. Instead of turning on the television and flipping through all the channels trying to find the story coverage we desired, we could simply log into our Twitter accounts and search for the key words to the stories of our interest - in yesterday's case "#atxplanecrash."

As you can see, the answer to my exploratory question: are ordinary citizens becoming more like journalists while journalists become more like ordinary citizens? - seems to be YES, at least in this example.

However, we cannot forget that journalists adhere to a strict code for reporting the news that many of us ordinary citizens do not. For example, journalists must remain unbiased, must double check their facts, must use proper AP style - most of these things we generally do not follow when sharing our news. So, while the roles seem to have some elements in common, the line between ordinary citizen and journalist is still clearly defined.

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