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Pen Diarrhea! The Achilles Heels of Citizen Journalism

Journalism is no longer a profession restricted to those who were trained full time or part time in mass communication or related disciplines. The internet age has opened up the journalism space for everyone who is interested in dissemination of information. This seems to make news gathering and dissemination exciting. But wait a minute, let us look at the basic concepts of the topic we are looking at here.

The topic says “Pen Diarrhea: The Achilles Heels of Citizen Journalism.” Of course, the pen is used here to reflect journalism profession. Journalism is also called the pen profession. Diarrhea is a disease caused by presence of bacteria in the small intestines which causes liquid bowel movements, that is, frequent stooling. Diarrhea is an ailment characterized by frequent bowel movement, especially watery waste.

So pen diarrhea here refers to uncontrollable urge to write and publish a story in most cases without bothering to confirm them. You hear a story or see it on a news platform, whether social media or main stream media, you simply copy and paste on your blog or even rewrite it to look more exciting, intriguing or appealing. You always have the urge to write without confirmation the content. Of course, this is not the character of a trained journalist who knows what he or she was taught either in class or through private online lectures. That is why it is a disease. Pen diarrhea is an ailment suffered by a reporter which is characterized by the frequent urge to publish anything that looks like a story without passing it through the rigours of the gate-keeping process. This is practically what most modern bloggers do. Ask the sincere ones, they will tell you the truth.

Citizen journalism is gathering and reporting news often through the internet, especially social media platforms. Citizen journalism is a practice where individuals, regardless of whether they are trained journalists or not, report stories to the public through a news platform, especially internet channels. One major feature of citizen journalism is blogging. This is what is dominating the media landscape in Nigeria and other climes across the world. Bloggers are everywhere. They are people who own online information dissemination channels through which they pass across various kinds or genres of information to the public. Virtually every one who knows how to copy and paste a story onto an online platform is a blogger.

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Citizen journalism features mostly in the social media environment. Several persons have become ‘journalists’ through facebook, twitter, Instagram, whatsapp, and other such platforms. Once you have several followers on your social media platform you have become an information source. You put out a story and before you know it, the story is everywhere. Even if you were joking, the joke suddenly turns into hot news because it was well crafted to suit the awkward news need of a section of the public. Remember the salt-bath therapy joke which became a hot internet story leading many Nigerians to bath with salt and water. Remember the story of soldiers injecting children with substances in schools to kill them off on the guise of immunization, a story which ended up false. The first person that posts the story is often not the major problem.The real problem is people suffering an ailment called pen diarrhea who do not bother to confirm whether a story is true or not but are in a hurry to copy and paste anything that looks like a hot story. This is how several personalities have read stories about themselves which never happened. You could be walking along the street and suddenly find people looking at you somehow or phone calls sympathizing with you over a report trending online about you.

That was how the legendary Brazilian footballer Ronaldinho got shocked when he started receiving phone calls from friends across the world over a lie about his purported wedding plans with two of his girlfriends. People were congratulating him for planning to wed two of his girlfriends at the same time; something he never said he would do. That was how the General Overseer of Synagogue Church of All Nations, Prophet TB Joshua was said to be planning to build a university in his village, a report he denied. That was how an online news platform “World Daily News Report” wrote that an Indonesian Zoo keeper was hospitalised after he attempted to perform oral sex on a male Rhino. After the story had gone viral, another news platform, Business 2 Community, reported that the story about the Indonesian zoo employee was FAKE NEWS; nothing of such happened. Believe this, it never happened. That is the extent people can go just to get traffic to their site. In fact, the picture used on that fake Indonesian zoo employee story was also fake. But before it was ascertained fake a number of blogs had spread the news across the world. Of course, most readers do not have time to confirm reports by searching for them on reputable news media.

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I am sure that by now you must have lost count of how many times you read stories on social media that never happened or were twisted to suit readers. Would you call this junk journalism at a dangerous level or simply one of the downsides technology brought upon journalism? This is serious because the beauty of citizen journalism is eroded by the lack of credibility of contents.

You read a wonderful story only to wonder after a second whether what you read actually happened. Then you fall back on the mainstream media for stories you can trust to an extent. So those people saying the social media will one day wipe away mainstream media should have a rethink. That will never happen. The same story you see on blogs could be seen on mainstream media but this time, there is an attempt to investigate the story because of the reputation of the media concerned.

Citizen journalism is cool but the Achilles heels of this brand of journalism is the fact that a number of those in this particular field are suffering from “Pen Diarrhea.” This ailment is the downfall of citizen journalism no matter how mighty you rate this kind of reporting based on its impact on the society. Citizen journalism truly impacts the society in ways mainstream journalism may never do. This is practically due to the fact that everyone around the corner is a reporter and they provide hot leads which even the mainstream media pick up for further investigation. But if  blogging and other forms of citizen journalism are to be seriously regarded as journalism then the basic tenets of the profession should be reflected on the reporting style. Such virtues as confirmation of stories, attribution to sources, further investigation, and recognition of journalism ethics, need to be factored into news gathering and dissemination by citizen journalists. Otherwise the presence of numerous pen diarrhea patients will continue making the citizen journalism environment look like a market place of confusion.

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

He is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu University, COOU, (formerly Anambra State University), Igbariam Campus.

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