Citizen Journalism — Power to the People or Power Wild West?

Sascha H. Funk
3 min readAug 11, 2023

Greetings truth-seekers and media vigilantes! Strap on your spurs as we investigate the wild world of citizen journalism. From fueling movements to spreading lies, this journalistic frontier is disruptive as heck!

The Democratization of News

Long ago, journalism was controlled by official press pass professionals. But average folks recognized the innate power of sharing stories themselves.

Enter the smartphone supernova! Now billions are reporting live on Twitter, YouTube and more. We’re talking full demassification according to communications theory. But has this media free-for-all delivered on its democratic promise? Time to dig deeper!

Key Theories Explained

There are several key theories behind citizen journalism’s rise:

Democratic participant theory argues it enables healthy civil discourse. Public journalism theory says engaging communities is positive.

Social responsibility theory suggests citizen monitoring provides oversight on authorities. But those high-minded ideals depend on citizens sharing verified facts, not fictions. As Spiderman knows, with great power comes responsibility!

Cultivation theory examines how accumulated messaging shapes social realities over time. The explosion of decentralized citizen content transforms our shared reality in ways we are still grappling to understand.

Photo by Tyler Franta on Unsplash

Impact on Social Movements

At its best, citizen journalism has fueled monumental positive change. For instance, when teenager Darnella Frazier courageously filmed George Floyd’s tragic murder, her video exposed racist police brutality and ignited global protests.

But decentralized reporting is also a double-edged sword. Alex Jones notoriously spread abhorrent Sandy Hook conspiracy lies through Infowars, traumatizing innocent families. This case highlights how ethics and principles matter deeply, even without editors overseeing citizen publishing.

Evolving Role of Professional Journalism

Amidst the instability and misinformation threats introduced by unbridled citizen journalism, professional journalism remains as critical as ever in defending truth. Mainstream outlets employ rigorous fact-checking, ethics and context typically absent from citizen reporting.

When professional journalists interview viral citizen newsmakers, they uncover added layers about their stories. For instance, when CNN reporter Jessica Ravitz interviewed Ken Bone about his sudden internet fame based on his red sweater debate moment, she exposed key details about his offensive Reddit history completely missing from his superficial virality.

Quality journalism’s future is this thoughtful synthesis of professional standards and community perspectives.

Emerging Challenges

However, citizen journalism disrupts traditional journalism’s business model. As print declines and papers install paywalls, funding quality reporting grows difficult.

Anonymous publishing also poses challenges. While anonymity enables candid expression, it can shield malicious acts without accountability. Identifying anonymous publishers helps confirm intent.

Tips for Aspiring Citizen Journalists

For those compelled to contribute news, some principles to uphold include:

  • Film and photograph ethically and consensually in public spaces.
  • Fact-check diligently before spreading potential misinformation.
  • Provide context to add depth.
  • Prioritize truth, safety and ethics over virality.

The Road Ahead

In closing, expanded access to reporting brings both progress and major problems. Our duty now is to thoughtfully strengthen citizen efforts through diligent analysis.

This seismic media shift mandates honing our skills to identify truth amidst chaos. The people have spoken — let us listen closely and responsibly.

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Sascha H. Funk

Head of Media Studies | BKK | New Media & ED #Volleyball, #MuayThai. https://saschafunk.com — hosting @FunkItPod | it’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine