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The Impact of Citizen journalism.

Does a smartphone make you a photojournalist?

The seminal work “The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere “(Habermas 1962) defines the Public Sphere as “where private people can come together in a public discursive space”, and to “gather together and articulate the needs of society with the state”.

Habermas states that the public sphere emerged first in the coffee houses of England and Holland and also in the Paris salons of the 18th century. The emerging print media of that era allowed for critical thinking through mass dissemination of literature, and this was embryonic to the development of journalism.

Previously recording of events were in control of the elite. The lower classes recorded events through the oral tradition especially in the form of ballads. The printing press allowed for these ballads to appear in sheet form thanks to the job from a local company which doeas screen printing in bulk.

The rise of the bourgeoisie strived to challenge the elite and saw the public space as an arena which could democratise society. The view was that open discussion would form a collective public opinion. In the private space of one’s family one could hold a different view point to the democratically wider held point of view. Governments sought to control this sphere.

Traditionally the public and private spheres were gender specific, man were in the public sphere discoursing and sharing ideas while women were in the private space nurturing the family. However the popular suffragette movement disrupted society forever through campaigning for equality until women achieved voting rights. .

There are two types of technology namely sustaining technologies and the disruptive variety. Disruptive technologies are the ones that by their definition disrupt an already well entrenched and established way of doing things and then replacing the old by changing forever the market it operated in.

Sustaining technologies improve upon processes already in place. It is abundantly clear from this definition that the internet is most definitely a disruptive technology.

We live in an era of rapid technological change, constant and consistent innovations. Apart from the internet other modern day disruptive innovation technologies include; driverless cars.gps systems, Artificial Intelligence, Software as a service (SAAS), robotics and of course the phenomena of social media and social networks which ultimately created a platform and paved the way for citizen journalism.

Writing in 2009,Demailly “Business Impacts of Social Networking”, posits a social network as a social structure comprising of numerous nodes interdependent on each other.

Her white paper drew attention to a number of modern day folk theories such as the strength of weak ties, the Six degrees of separation and the optimum number of people that each person can have a meaningful relationship with.

Referring to “The power of weak ties” Demailly cites Granovetter,who observed that within social networks weaker ties are more powerful than stronger ones. The author of this thesis has by observing social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter experienced how speedily information diffuses among those who have weak ties to each other.

At the core of the human experience is the need to belong to groups and it appears there is a greater desire to divulge deeper levels of information to weaker ties. This phenomenon occurs because humans are social animals who innately are compelled to impart, disseminate and receive information. Put quite simply Humans want to belong and are prepared to trade information as a form of currency if it buys them acceptance.

Milligrams’ “small world program tested Karinthy;s theory of 1929 which postulated that individuals regardless of their location on the planet regardless of their social constructs are linked to every other human being by no more the five links in a chain. Milligrams findings coined the phrase “Six degrees of Separation”.

British Anthropologist Robin Dunbar posited that there were a definitive number of individuals that the average person can maintain social relationships with. While not offering up a definitive number for his theory, Dunbar’s number of 150 is the number used by most.

However Maizie in a 2016 article entitled “Do you have too many Facebook friends?” , maintains that the average Facebook user has 338 friends while the median at 200 is closer to the 150 figure.In 2007, Manueli et al ,while not referring to Citizen journalists per se states the importance of opinion leaders in social networks and the influence they have if ideas are disseminated or not.

It is possible to view Maizie’s article from a different slant. Using Dunbar’s number If a citizen journalist had 150 subscribers in his blogosphere and these each had 150 subscribers, at the second level this is a reach of 150 x 150 = 22,500 possible viewers of an initial post. Using the six degrees of separation as 150 x 150 x 150 x 150 x 150 x 150 yields a figure of 11,390,625,000,000 possible viewees. From this it’s very easy to see the appeal of citizen journalism for spreading a news item very quickly.S

Galtung & Ruge (1965) (updated in 2014) drew up a list of 12 news values namely: “(1) frequency (2) threshold (3) Unambiguity (4) Meaningfulness (5) Consonance (6)Unexpectedness (7) Continuity (8) Composition (9) Reference to elite nations (10) Reference to elite persons (11) Personalisation (12) Negativity”.

Herman and Chomsky’s Propaganda Model (Manufacturing Consent 1998) focused on the societal inequalities particularly those of wealth and power. Although the self designed table below leans towards American society, it is possible by substituting #5 “Anti-Communism” with “Immigrants” or “Socialists” or any other term with a relative negative it can be adapted to fit any other democratic society.

News Filters
1. The size, concentrated ownership, owner wealth. Profit orientation of the dominant mass-media firms;
2. Advertising The primary income source of the mass media
3.Media reliance Information provided by government, business, and “experts” funded and approved by these primary sources and agents of power.
4.”Flak” To discipline the Media.
5.”Anti-Communism” Control mechanism.

When,in 1960, Liebling stated that “The freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own them” which aligns with news filter #1 of the Herman/Chomsky Propaganda Model, it was meant as a criticism of capitalism and forty years later it became a battle cry for citizen journalism.

The emergence of Citizen Journalism also known as participatory journalism can be traced back to the 1988 US Presidential election. It began as a reaction to mistrust in mainstream media.The aim of citizen participation was to provide accurate, reliable and relevant information in line with the ethos of a democratic society.

A journalistic movement for the people “by the people” reshaped news and dissemination from the bottom up. This movement began to thrive and flourish, mostly as a result of the adoption of disruptive technologies which assimilated into society at an explosive rate.

Schumpeter (1939) recognised the phenomenon of the spatial concentration of innovations and the literature suggests that citizen journalism works on other levels not just spatial.

Professional journalists are educated to be unbiased and critical. Objectivity is the key to fair and accurate reporting of events, but being a journalist is much more than merely reporting. This author points to a checklist for authenticating if the sources for the story. Is there an agenda behind the source giving the information? Is the journalist being used?

It is reasonable to assume that a trained journalist would align more closely to the news values as determined by the seminal study of Galtung & Ruge than an untrained citizen journalist or an adhoc uploader of sporadic posts. On the other hand there is no denying the power of immediacy.

The following paragraph illustrates the nasty side of social media when matters get out of hand. Sinn Feins Barry McElduff posted a controversial photograph on himself posing with a Kingsmill loaf of bread balanced on his head. This was taken as an attack on the memory of those massacared on 5th January 1976 by IRA posing as British soldiers.

The post was uploaded to coincide with the anniversary of the killings and later deleted. In Belfast, Alliance party MLA Naomi Long has accused two protestant politicians Doug Beattie (UUP) and Christopher Stalford (DUP) of jumping on a politician by tweeting a cartoon by Brian John Spencer.Mr Elduff is currently serving a three month suspension from Sinn Fein for his incitement to hate act. What started out as noise in a hyperlocal sphere quite quickly became newsworthy in the public sphere.h

Fake news is a major problem for citizen journalism. Nowadays it is impossible to hear this buzzword without thinking of self proclaimed genius President of the United States Donald Trump. His use of Twitter may very well be genius in that it creates discourse in the public sphere but is it news or noise?

His presence in the virtual space has created many problems for professional journalists’ whom he debases as purveyors of fake news. As a result citizens in The United States are confused as to the veracity of news items. All this, arise from the negative effects of citizen journalism in the supposedly most democratic of all the nations on the earth.

YouTube cut ties with video blogger Logan Paul who has over 15 million subscribers to his account. The reason being his posting of a dead man hanging from a tree in Aokigara forest, Japan.This area colloquially known a ‘Suicide forest’ is the most popular suicide spot in all of Japan. While his site is to be removed from Google Preferred, his income stream from his vlog has not been curtailed as of yet.

Here are some examples showing how stories were broken by Twitter before the mainstream, including the announcement of Prince William to Catherine Middleton

Whitney Houston found dead in Beverley Hills hotel.

Plane landed on the river Hudson

and The Boston explosion.

They show the revolutionary nature of disruptive technologies such as Twitter and how they affect the public sphere. All of these stories were disseminated to the public before the mainstream got to report on them.

Harper (2010) states that” citizen journalism is not the death of journalism rather it is a democratic movement giving voice to those who don’t have one.” Altschull (1984) posited that “all press systems endure the doctrine of social responsibility”. All reporters of news including citizen journalists have ethical and moral responsibilities towards democratic society.

The “we media” is seen as a good for society. The business model for journalism is disrupted forever which Outing (2005) sees not for profit citizen driven media and citizen and civic driven news initiatives forming a new and exciting plateau supported by traditional journalism. However citizen journalism must be ethical and not titillating or sensationalist in its content (see previous example on Japans “suicide forest” as how not to engage in peer to peer groups).

User generated content (UGC) is here to stay.Consider South Korean citizen journalist site OhmyNews which was founded by Oh Yeon-ho.Its ataff contribute only 20% of news content while ordinary people contribute the other 80%.By 2007 it had grown to over 50,000 citizen journalist actively contributing. In “We the Media : Grassroots Journalism by the people, for the people “(Gillmor 2004) considers that this era as “ a time of incredible exploration”.

User generated content showed the role that citizen journalism can play in democratic societies through reporting on issues as they broke such as, the racists marching during the Charlottesville riots, the Ferguson riots, The Iranian Presidential elections of 2009, Black lives matter, the Arab spring, the Bataclan massacre.

Closer to home we look can to examples such as the water charge protests in the Republic of Ireland with special attention drawn to the Jobstown march. Presently a bill proposed by Fine Gael’s TD Josepha Madigan aims to make the use of social media as a platform to make comments during trial a contempt of court has just passed the third stage in the Oireacteas. Solidarity TD Paul Murphy was forced to take down tweets during the water charges trial as the trial was in danger of collapsing. This alone showed the power that citizen journalism could have on the public sphere.

Keeble (2008) posited that “citizen journalism provided a crucial critique of the mainstream”. He considered the ethical issues facing not only professional journalists but also trainees. The citizen journalist as author of user generated content must be considered as a trainee, and trainees need to be trained. A hybrid may be the answer integrating both citizen journalism and professional journalism as OhmyNews has done successfully.

Outings “11 Layers of Citizen Journalism” of 2005 suggest a movement through the layers increasing complexity with every layer. It is the continuum of involvement to solicit citizen input and collaboration becoming more complex as it becomes more interactive.

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