Out of millions of events that take place globally, only a little percentage make the news.
How does this happen?
Galtung and Ruge answered that question a long time ago in their 1965 study. They drew a list of News Values from their research, and it has fast become a sort of journalism charter among students and practitioners alike. The criteria for events to become news according to the Norwegians (Galtung & Ruge) are:
Frequency| Threshold| Unambiguity| Meaningfulness| Consonance| Unexpectedness| Continuity| Composition| Reference to: Elite Nations, Elite People, Persons & Something Negative|
For more on the theory of news values, visit The Media Research Hub
During the weekend, I began brooding over the current status of the above-mentioned news values in the light of recent developments in Journalism practice. It can hardly be debated that Galtung and Ruge’s news values apply strongly to traditional media. However, to what extent do the theory of news values apply to new journalists, aka Citizen Journalists.
I know that any bid to properly answer this question, is to heed the call for research. However, I will attempt to provide an informal background of study that would explain why I am arriving at certain conclusions.
What really is Citizen Journalism?
Scholars have attested to the fact that defining Citizen Journalism (CJ) is quite complex (as is common with most terms in social science). CJ is best understood when considered in contrast to its assumed opposite, professional journalism.
Fackson Banda makes a declarative statement in his book, Citizen Journalism and Democracy in Africa. He says, “the very doctrine of professional journalism is under fire in this deconstructive age. What does it mean to be a professional?” This only demonstrates how much of a challenge Citizen Journalism is posing to the longstanding practice of traditional journalism.
Back to defining CJ, Responsible Citizen says, it refers to “the types of journalism which members of the public contribute to. That is, untrained people taking photographs and filing reports on events which once would have been the sole preserve of our media outlets.”
The National Association for Citizen Journalists (NACJ), on the other hand, according to Fackson Banda (2010:26) (Pdf) attempts to debunk the idea that just because someone uses a cell phone camera to photograph an incident and then uploads it to Flickr, has a blog and ‘bloviates’ about what interests him/her, does not make that person a citizen journalist.
Banda goes on to make sense of CJ by breaking the concept into 2 categories: Institutional and Non-institutional Citizen Journalism.
Non-Institutional usually tends to revolve around the individual, and has no attachments to any ‘organizational framework of constraints.’ Institutional on the other hand, encapsulates the space traditional media institutions seem to be moving into. Although it is still somewhat individuated, it has a form of organizational structure and external constraints (which could be minimal, albeit existent) (Banda, 2010:29).
Either way we try to define Citizen Journalism, I believe the concept has extended its arm of ‘deconstruction’ (as Fackson suggested) to even the long-standing criteria of what makes the news. It has changed the nature of news, hence its values as well.
The individuated nature of Citizen Journalism absolves it from any recourse to authorities such as publishers, who in turn are guided by diverse socio-economic factors. The Citizen Journalist ‘reports’ based on his own whim, interest, or whatever story he/she stumbles upon. The dominating ideology behind CJ is too report issues that would have otherwise not made it unto tradtional media platforms. Perhaps that is the only ‘value’ that would be uniform across diverse CJ platforms.
My working hypothesis for now is that, there are no rigid values guiding what makes the news in citizen journalism. And secondly, an attempt to put a form of structure to what guides the citizen journalists in choosing what he/she covers, would yield such a wide variety that the researcher may only be able to loosely categorise them.
Note that this is subject to research, but until then, i’ll join my colleagues in trying to make sense of what exactly is Citizen Journalism.