Citizen-Powered Journalism Fills a Void: With Blogs, Camera Phones and More, Ordinary People Are Sharing the Events in Their World in near Real Time

Article excerpt

The prerequisite for Journalism 1.0 was a deep sense of curiosity and some comfort with risk. Journalism 2.0 still needs those two ingredients, plus some comfort with technology.

With an accelerated news cycle and so many disasters and global events to cover, a new type of open-source reporting, citizen journalism, has stepped in to fill the breach. Before you think citizen journalism involves a maverick muckraker with a laptop, consider the traditional media's response. Many "CitJos," as they are called, work alongside old hands in the newsrooms. In fact, many of the stories you read, listen to or watch in the mainstream media could be coming from them.

In Myanmar in September, when the military killed several protesters, citizen reporters leapt into action to fill the traditional role of local and international media, which were heavily censored by the ruling junta. When Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai was killed in the line of duty, the first images of the event seeped out through an invisible news "bureau"--a combination of blogs, Flickr photos, videos on YouTube and even e-mail. Blogs such as the Burma Underground were filled with reports filed by CitJos.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

When did this shift take place? Citizens have been participating in their news for decades, but their input was limited to letters and call-ins. There were technical limitations with regard to the timeliness of citizen input too. Camera phones and blogs became commercially viable only after 2002; blogs arguably started gaining critical mass around the same time. Two years prior, a real push toward citizen journalism came from the east, when South Korean entrepreneur Oh Yeon-ho started OhmyNews, with 727 citizen reporters. It wasn't on many people's radar until it became a major force in South Korea's presidential elections in 2002. OhmyNews is now one of the world's largest citizen journalism enterprises, with 1,900 citizen journalists, not counting 65 fulltime staff reporters.

Adapting to the model

Technology has been a big driver of the adoption of citizen journalism, equipping it well for speed, collaboration and delivery. Without needing to invest in expensive GPS phones or briefcase satellites, CitJos are filing stories via text messages, grainy pictures on camera phones, cyber cafes and, when necessary, proxy servers to cover their tracks.

So it is not surprising that mainstream journalism has bolted citizen-powered journalism onto its business practice. Reuters, for instance, has partnered with Global Voices to integrate feeds into its country pages and special reports. The Associated Press wire service just partnered with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based NowPublic citizen journalist site (tag line: "Crowd powered media"), which has thousands of contributors in 140 countries. To give you some sense of scale, NowPublic's footprint dwarfs that of AP, which has bureaus in just 97 countries. Soon after the Minneapolis, Minnesota, bridge collapse in August, AP began using images obtained through Flickr and Facebook. "Grab your camera and start weaving your tale," urges CNN on a portion of its site dedicated to getting readers to be its eyes and ears. "We're not looking for press releases; we want to see your full-fledged storytelling. …