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Citizen journalism: the problem of definition 12 October 2008

Posted by jordanfarley in Citizen Journalism, User Generated Content.
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The term citizen journalism is an inadequate definition of the public’s contribution to the news media. The reason is obvious; every citizen becomes a journalist (if as ‘citizen journalist’ implies professional training is not a prerequisite to becoming a journalist) when passing on current affairs information to others. We are all citizen journalists then, or are we?

Direct public communication with big news outlets is as much an accepted part of the news media’s link to its audience as the idea of journalist as creator and public as consumer. The problem comes when we try to define who a citizen journalist actually is.

These problems have been commented on extensively elsewhere, so what I hope to make clear here is that I consider User Generated Content (UGC) to be much less problematical as a definition of the public’s contribution to the news media.

UGC is a more accurate description of what the public actually contributes to big news media. Very few members of the public are likely to go through the process which a journalist goes through in the creation of a news story: extensive research, sub-editing and fact checking for example. In fact most of the ‘news’ which comes under the umbrella of citizen journalism is raw information, a source which must be shaped by a professional into a piece of journalism.

There are exceptions to this, such as CNN’s iReport or the BBC’s Have Your Say page and the millions of news blogs to which users submit/upload complete stories, however this is not what many people have in mind when talking about citizen journalism. Photos, videos and messages sent to news outlets are UGC and not citizen journalism. Just as I wouldn’t consider photos or a piece of writing yet to be subbed a complete piece of journalism, I wouldn’t consider such things sent in by the public journalism either.

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