Journalism is no longer a profession restricted to those who were trained full time or part time in mass communication or related disciplines. The advent of the social media has redefined who a journalist is. Information dissemination, News gathering, dissemination and public opinion moulding which was the exclusive preserve role once solely performed by the Gentlemen of the Press has been thrown open to anyone who can use internet enabled smart phone or laptop.
Citizen journalism is gathering and reporting news often through the internet, especially social media platforms. It 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.
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 or what is popularly called ‘social media influencer’. 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 needs of a section of the public.
Fake news incidents from the social media world have been largely perpetrated by the so-called citizen journalists. Oftentimes, no one can actually identify the original source of such false information but it suddenly spreads like wild fire in the social media and in the society. This is not to say that the citizen journalism does not have its good sides. It does because it has exposed a lot of ills in the society which the mainstream media took up and investigated. But the harm citizen journalists do to the society could be monumental sometimes.
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. No specific professional training is required.
The major problem with the social media and citizen journalism is the level of unprofessionalism exhibited in information dissemination. People 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 is the reality of citizen journalism in the society.
Anyone reading this would have lost count of how many times he or she read stories on social media that never happened or were twisted to suit readers. This could be described as 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. Someone reads a wonderful story only to wonder after a second whether what was read actually happened. Then the reader falls back to the mainstream media for stories that could be trusted to an extent. It is becoming very clear that the notion that the social media will one day wipe away or relegate the mainstream media to the sidelines is unlikely to become reality. The same story seen 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 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 real 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.