I call them the 5th estate of the realm, because they somewhat ‘check’ the activities of the 4th estate (traditional press or mainstream media) by bringing to fore stories you may never have come across ordinarily.
Jay Rosen defines Citizen Journalism thus, “When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism”
However, one big BUT plagues this brand, and that is, to what extent can a Citizen Journalist be tagged as a professional as well.
The recent WIKILEAKS saga (aka Diplo-Docu-Dump) has been one of the most significant events in the history of citizen journalism, since the rise of new media (internet and its cohorts).
Loewenstein, quoting the London Observer on his blog said, “The phrase “citizen journalism” often attaches itself to WikLeaks, as if this was a new phenomenon, but journalism has always relied on leaks and tipoffs and secrets from the wider public. What the internet, and its communities of information gatherers, allows is for this to be done on a more epic and anonymous scale…”
I absolutely agree with this observation by the London Observer (enjoy the pun). However, the question still remains that how professional can the practice of citizen journalism be classed? Will it not do more harm than good if so much (sensitive) information is left in the hands of the public (non-professionals) to disseminate as they please?
One of the strongholds and requirements in practicing good journalism is the ability to GATE-KEEP. Gate-Keeping is the selection and filtering process journalists put stories through before they finally make it to the media pages and screen. The selection of stories is usually done according to a set of laid-down and sometimes informal requirements – yet equally important. Some of such requirements are news values (which every first year journalism student is taught in class).
One good function of the gate-keeping process is that it allows the media house measure how socially responsible it will be to release a particular information to the public. In an old post, I once talked about the Social Responsibility theory of the press. It is an ideology which opines that although the media should be free to express itself without fear and harassment , it must do this in a manner that would not stir up social unrest. That is, public interest is pivotal.
This responsibility is upheld by professional journalist who sift through information that comes in, before getting published. The difference between a professional and a citizen journalist is that the latter just might not care about gate-keeping. And frankly, the citizen journalist has nothing to lose.
The practice of citizen journalism has been fairly ‘safe’ because they have not necessarily had access to any ‘sensitive’ information… any sensitive information until WIKILEAKS happened.
The word out there is that WIKILEAKS has revolutionized the way journalism is and will be practiced in the future. I love the way the London Observer put it, “What once could be stamped “top secret” and locked away in a filing cabinet now becomes digitised and potentially accessible to any number of people with a keyboard and a broadband connection. Diplomats, politicians and business leaders around the world will no doubt overnight become more circumspect about expressing any for-your-eyes-only opinion.
This development has changed the political definition of what transparency is, what democracy is and even what press freedom is.
CITIZEN JOURNALISM is the new age, and it’s really about to get HOT in here – Unlike NELLY, endeavour to keep your CLOTHES on though 😉
Compliments of the season!
Twitter Handle: @tomi_ola