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  • Writer's pictureChinyere Ibeh

Citizen journalism and its impacts on local communities challenges mainstream news

Citizen journalism serves as a crucial aspect of journalism, especially when it comes to first-hand accounts of stories and events. Citizen journalism functions as a tangent to journalism.

The origins of citizen journalism trace back to a South Korean platform called OhMyNews. The site’s motto says “Every Citizen is a Reporter,” which emphasizes the community’s role in telling their stories. According to Britannica, Oh Yeon-ho, a South Korean online entrepreneur, founded OhMyNews with three of his colleagues in 2000.

The quartet founded the website due to their dissatisfaction with the traditional news in South Korea. OhMyNews grew from 727 citizen reporters in one country to 50 thousand contributors in 100 countries by 2007.

In 1963, Abraham Zapruder took his amateur film camera and recorded John F. Kennedy’s rally in Dallas. Zapruder captured Kennedy’s assassination and many considered it an early photo-form of citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism allows for communities to control their narrative. Evan Moore, an adjunct professor at DePaul, further explains the power of citizen journalism.

“I think [citizen journalism] forces people to look outside of TV news, the dailies and like, the random blogs,” says Moore. “…people should have a healthy diet of news…I mean…there are literally people out there who honestly care about their communities and they may not disseminate information in a traditional way, but it resonates with people.”

Organizations like City Bureau help bridge the gap between trained and citizen journalists. City Bureau hosts its own Public Newsroom, a weekly program where a local community member hosts each week to share information about a selected topic. Chicago Documenters, another program by City Bureau, describes itself to be a “local hub for civic action and public oversight of local government through local media.”

Members of Chicago Documenters practice civic reporting by covering local government meetings. According to the City Bureau website, the community-powered reporting from members of Chicago Documenters consists of the most complete record of local policy decisions. All of these records of important policy come from members of the local communities who have been trained by City Bureau.

“The other people that participate in City Bureau, I learned so much from them as well,” says Ahmad Sayles, a 2021 Reporting Fellow for City Bureau. “The community is built of people who actually acquire access to those positions and knowledge.”

Sayles continues, “But, seeing them participate in [the program], I pick up things from them, ways to be more interactive ways to be more informative. Ways to be less harmful.”

Not only does Sayles learn from active participation, he learns from those younger than him who intends to make journalism their career. He learns from them despite them not having formal training. During his time in the program, participants have learned to communicate more effectively with one another.

Citizen journalism continues to confuse people, including editors and publishers — to the point that Poynter has an article about the 11 layers of the concept. The first layer says that comments are necessary for a story since readers want to express the missing elements.

Almost every, if not all, online publication has a comment section at the end of each story. The comment section serves a purpose as it allows for a publication to solicit information from the public. A reader could easily comment on a certain fact that the reporter didn’t initially have.

The ladder climbs up to what Poynter describes as “Wiki Journalism.” Imagine the concept of Wikipedia, but rather than just a website full of pages of information, it’s a website full of news stories. WikiNews allows anyone to write and post a news story and anyone can edit the story.

Poynter describes the concept as experimental and it operates on the theory that knowledge of the collective can produce credible and well-balanced news accounts. Traditional news won’t rush to copy the model of WikiNews, but it could easily find it useful in certain situations.

Citizen journalism not only produces community-led storytelling on local government, but it can also help with local protests. Moore explains that he sometimes cites people on the front lines in his stories. Not only do those on the frontlines provide their voice to a story, but they do also so using social media.

“I’d see someone on Instagram or Twitter or on Facebook, either using Facebook Live or something where they’re basically documenting what’s going on there in their communities, particularly with social unrest,” says Moore.

Not only do community members document what happens in their neighborhood during social unrests, but they also pass on dates, locations, times, and specific details of the protests.

“I think people rely on citizen journalism, especially in the matter of protests, when it’s like, face-to-face with police,” says Sayles. “So, the first thing that’s coming to mind is the George Floyd protests that happened not too long ago. I think people who protest would trust their friend, colleague, neighbor more, to tell the truth, than someone who doesn’t live next to them [and] doesn’t share their perspective.”

Citizen journalism has allowed readers to participate more in a story. Journalism has arguably become a more collaborative and collective industry as readers and community members alike contribute to the presented narrative, especially in protests and local politics.

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