Academic journal article Caribbean Quarterly

Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism: A Case for Collaboration

Academic journal article Caribbean Quarterly

Citizen Journalism vs. Traditional Journalism: A Case for Collaboration

Article excerpt

IN JANUARY 2011, A NEWS RELEASE from Jamaica's Constabulary Communication Network (CCN) indicated that a man who attacked the police had been shot and killed. It was not long after, however, that a citizen of the country began circulating video footage which told a different story. The footage showed the man who was said to have attacked the police seemingly writhing in pain, being beaten with a police baton and finally shot and killed while still down, subdued and unarmed.

The identity of that citizen who videotaped those images resulting in the arrest of the two policemen was never revealed, despite appeals from law enforcement officials. The action by that Jamaican citizen brought into sharp focus the fact that information and communication tools, such as mobile telephones and the Internet, are bringing about a level of access to information that is unprecedented. Blogs, forums, uploading of photographs or videos to the Internet, are now being labelled 'citizen journalism' as distinct from raditional, mainstream or professional journalism.

The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional or formal training in journalism have an opportunity to use the tools of modern technology and the almost limitless reach of the Internet in order to create content that would otherwise not be revealed, as this kind of journalism goes far beyond the reach of professional journalism.1

Citizen journalism, or participatory journalism as it is alternately labelled, is the act of a citizen or group of citizens involved in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and other forms of information.2 The objective of this type of exercise is to provide independent, wide-ranging and relevant information that is crucial to democratic societies.

Peter Dooley suggests that "traditional journalism is the outside looking in. Citizen journalism is the inside looking out. In order to get the complete story, it helps to have both points of view."3 Dooley's argument suggests that there is a place for this emerging phenomenon called citizen journalism, as well as for the profession that has been practised for decades called mainstream or traditional journalism.

Citizen journalism, as we know it now, was popularised in the late 1990s as more and more people, in both the developed and developing worlds, became connected to the Internet. The term is viewed as an umbrella concept that covers blogging as well as other institutional practices - such as the opportunity provided by one of Jamaica's three free-to-air television stations, CVM Television, through its I-Watch Report segment that allows viewers to send in reports of events or activities in their location. Other definitions include any form of user-generated content or contribution to the debate that is taking place in the public sphere. These would include postings on personal websites and social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. Radio stations in Jamaica, such as Nationwide News Network, have made these sites a regular part of their commentary as they solicit views from listeners and incorporate these in their current affairs programmes.

While many researchers are in agreement that the term citizen journalism did not exist before the age of the Internet and that this phenomenon grew in tandem with the growth of the Internet, others posit a different view. According to Dan Gilmor, "Citizen journalism has existed in the form of independent community papers and newsletters since the eighteenth century."4 It is only now, with the advent of the Internet, that more ordinary people have access to media and communication tools and facilities to make their opinions known and their voices heard, hence the focus is on citizen journalism.

Gilmor further traces the roots of citizen journalism to the founding of the United States in the eighteenth century when pamphleteers such as Thomas Paine, who printed his own publications, became known. …

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