Everyday hundreds and thousands of news items pour in the news desk. It is a tough job to filter news and pick the most relevant items that carry the news sense and value. Like a foodie wants his food to be freshly served within the least time, audiences want the crispiest news at the earliest. Like the quality of the food is trusted with a chain, credibility of news is entrusted with the media. That is what makes the competition fierce for an ever flourishing media industry.
Citizen journalism is a fairly new kid in the media bloc that makes everyone a journalist, so long they are able to tell a story that people are interested to know about. While mainstream media seek to maintain exclusivity, citizen journalism tends to deliver to the community for public interest.
As exclusivity and originality are matter of great significance for the mainstream news media in order to maintain television rating points and readership for newspapers, citizen journalism holds the potential to add value to it.
What sets citizen journalism apart from the mainstream media is its promptness at getting news. A person witnessing an incident as it happens can tell a story better than a trained journalist who may have missed the defining moment of that incident. Hence, as news is demanded earliest, many a time community blogs make a great platform for citizens to report.
It can take the form of a tweeted incident, a video captured and uploaded on social media, or a detail description of an incident posted on community blog, that can lead a story in the mainstream media.
The Arab Spring uprising against dictatorship in the Middle Eastern countries which started from Tunisia in September 2010 is an example where the media largely leaned on citizen journalists. The people on the streets captured the oppression of dictator governments in some of the countries and uploaded them on the internet to gain public support.
Citizen journalism has exposed so much about the oppressive regimes in Syria and elsewhere that many citizens were targeted, detained and even killed for reporting incidents on blogs and websites, to reach out to the world.
Says Frank Smyth of Committee to Protect Journalists in a statement to the journalist.co.uk, “What compelled international journalists to enter the country [Syria] have been the video images and still photographs that were uploaded from Homs and from elsewhere in Syria by activists, bloggers and citizen journalists who are out there with cell phones and other handheld devices in order to capture what is occurring and upload that and get it out to the outside world.”
Protestors at Tahrir Square - Mahmoud Gamal El-Din, Egyptian Photographer
Within the context of Bangladesh, the brutality of the Indian Border Security Force personnel on a Bangladeshi cattle-shepherd this year was exposed when an unidentified person provided a video captured on mobile phone to the Indian news channel NDTV. This later sparked a serious concern and criticism across Bangladesh and outside.
As journalists, there are a lot of bindings and responsibility that we have to maintain, keeping the editorial policies, news standards, and credibility issues in mind. Citizen journalism under those lenses bears the possibilities of being subjective and amateur. However, the good thing about it is that a citizen, who has observed an incident in person can share it almost immediately while the verification and moderation can be left to the editors and gatekeepers of the news stations.
With technologies and globalisation making life faster and easier than before, it appears that people have become hungry for information more than food. The difference is that, you can cook food, but a cooked up information or news can land you in anywhere between imbroglio and legal implication, depending on the environment and platform.
In the fast developing knowledge-based society, credibility matters the most. That is what makes media strive for when it comes to securing audience’s trust and confidence. Otherwise, we would not have had tabloids that carry scandals baked with half-truths, newspapers of the page 3 category sold for two taka on the streets and mainstream broadsheets that people pay more hoping to get the correct news and source of information.
While reporters and mainstream media do their professional duties, citizen journalism allows a platform for people to involve and engage themselves in areas of social, political and economic affairs. At the end of the day, despite media making a huge business from selling news, it is still deemed to be a service that is aimed at doing well to the society and economy at large.
The merger between citizen and professional journalism make news timely and effective. Media seeks to reflect on whatever happens to and affects the society. So while making news, the more there is information and source, the more credible a story becomes.
The July 2007 bomb blast in London was captured by a civilian on his mobile phone and later broadcast in the BBC. Similarly, in 2009, when the BDR mutiny occurred in Bangladesh, the news was first aired on NDTV. However, the incident was first posted on a blog as early as 10:30 in the morning.
Blogs since 2005 have ushered in a new media in Bangladesh for sharing information in public sphere on a diversity of issues. As far as citizen journalism is concerned, blogs play an important role at making people a journalist and a critic. They can report as well as be a critic on many important issues.
Hence, even for journalists, blogs have made an important social media to find a lot of information that can be refined into news. People’s view on a particular issue or incident is an example of content that journalists use in reports. What celebrities tweet today makes up for news.
While bearing in mind that new media has kept the freedom of expression completely unrestricted and beyond the legal framework as of today, the onus is on citizens to do responsible and constructive journalism and criticism. Somewhereinblog and sachalayatan are two of many prominent community blogs that have emerged within the last seven years with as many as 200,000 bloggers.
The moderation of language and content is something that community and news blogs have to maintain strictly. Over the years, mainstream media like Prothom Alo and bdnews24.com have also initiated blogs to provide their readers with space to participate and share their opinions. Because the internet is free, there is still a lot of abuse and misuse, limiting the reliability of some of the contents shared on social media.
To conclude, while moderation is essential to maintain clarity and eligibility of contents in compliance with public taste and preference, restriction and curtailment of freedom of expression is not only a foolish attempt at this age but unacceptable.
The story was first published in INTELLECT Issue no.1, dated April 2012.