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Professional and citizen journalism: a not so evident relationship

Brussels, Columbia, December 4th, 2015 (SIGNIS/ Schooljournalism.org). In a world where cameras are everywhere, citizen journalism has transformed how journalists do their job. “Students and even adults have really started to use citizen journalism as a means of bypassing the traditional media gatekeeper,” Megan Fromm said. “It can be a really empowering form of communication, a way of saying ‘I was here, and this is what I saw’ when the ‘big media dogs’ aren’t paying any attention. It has also provided journalists with an array of story ideas, angles, human interest stories, and source avenues to explore.”

Megan Fromm is the news literacy curriculum leader for the Journalism Education Association, which is the largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers in the US and exists since 1924. She is an assistant professor at Colorado Mesa University and on faculty for the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change, a new media literacy study abroad program.

Fromm defines citizen journalism as news-centric media produced by consumers who typically do not possess traditional professional journalistic training or guidance. For him citizen journalism is produced on-the-spot or can be live, eyewitness coverage. “I think citizen journalism at its best shows the power of technology,” she explained. “At its worst, it reminds people the value of and need for traditional journalism.”

She is afraid that citizen journalism has also created bubbles of knowledge that fake young or new journalists into thinking they do not have to search hard or wide for a good story or for the right information.“Citizen Journalism is everywhere and highly accessible, so it can provide a false sense of coverage or attention to an issue if you’re not careful,” she remarked. “Citizen journalism has impacted incredibly negative outcomes in some cases—the early Boston marathon bombing investigation comes to mind—because it was so powerful that it superseded the traditional media in many ways,” according to the assistant professor. “In that instance, legacy news media couldn’t keep up with the way social media was handling the story, and people were falsely accused before the evidence was in.”

But in the case of some of the racial issues across our country, Fromm believes citizen journalism has moved the needle by forcing those in power to answer for what is happening. “In my mind, what’s most important is for those using and creating citizen journalism to realize the power of the weapon, and use it accordingly for purposes of the highest social and democratic good,” Fromm said. “That takes education and awareness, and I don’t think journalists have been great at championing the cause because they may perceive it as a threat to their own industry.” Fromm said the news media should use citizen journalism as they would other types of evidence or news-gathering—as reporting meant to be verified and contextualized, but not generally meant to stand alone.

As citizen journalism is often raw footage or documentation, Fromm underlined it’s still important for journalists to provide background information and to fact-check what is provided. “I encourage students to consider citizen journalism as they would other types of second-hand information, which means to verify, verify, verify,” she said. “Do your due diligence as a reporter, even if you have something on tape that seems self-explanatory. There’s almost always more to the story.”


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