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Citizen Journalism - Is it a VIABLE, CREDIBLE alternative?
The upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa in the form of public protests to oust self-appointed rulers provided ample opportunity for technology to combine with on-field citizen journalists resulting in massive output in Citizen Journalism.
‘REVOLUTION 2.0’, is how many on the Internet describe the recent unprecedented events in Egypt, which lead to the end of President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule.
Public protests in Egypt created a chain-reaction in the Arab world, with similar public protests erupting in Libya, Kuwait, and Bahrain. A common thread running through political upheaval in these Arab countries was the censorship and crackdown on media at a time when people in these countries as well as across the world were hungry for every bit of information.
It’s in such a vitiated environment that the strangled global organized media was rescued by the reach, pace, and raw democratic nature of social media. Social media, became practically the only means for the exchange of news and information between besieged nations and rest of the world.
This isn’t the first instance of New Media coming to the rescue after the conventional media failed to deliver the ‘First Information Report’ - be it the Tsunami catastrophe, Mumbai blasts or the Iraq war. While many first drafts were written and reporting via New Media when events were unfolding in Egypt, a larger question remains unanswered – Is reporting by via New Media to be construed as Citizen Journalism ?
There are ongoing debates on Citizen Journalism vs. traditional journalism at almost every forum where New Media is discussed. Similar energy is being expended on the question of credibility or the lack of it being a deterrent for not adopting citizen journalism as a viable alternate. But then isn’t conventional media falling and failing under the weight of professional journalists, and suffering for being too ‘organized’?
New media is definitely an enabler for Citizen Journalism but could it be a synonym for Citizen Journalism? Doesn't it have a deeper connotation? These questions are yet to find a universally accepted answer. Also, one can argue that by, “keeping a screw driver at one’s home doesn't make anyone an electrician.”
But then what is credibility? Carrying a NDTV tag or anchoring a show with CNN-IBN logo in the back drop, reporting on the basis on the weight of a The Times of India press card, or does being a paid journalist make one more credible? Credibility and journalism, in the present context, are relative terms, especially when the credibility of most of media houses and publications is beyond doubt – questionable.
Political lineage and affiliation of media houses is visible in the form of their editorial themes and omissions. We are, therefore, faced with a dilemma. Should the judiciary be judged and a policeman be policed. In a democratic society there are, and should be, provisions for both possibilities to be addressed. But if it is the case of media following the wrong path or being misused, who shall counter and correct them? This question is significant in the context of the recent turn of events in India.
Revelations of media honchos as brokers for large corporate houses, as revealed in the Neera Radia tapes, was not surprising at all. Rather, it was the validation of common man’s apprehensions. Equally obvious was media houses’ low-key coverage of the involvement of conventional media players as ‘co-conspirators’ in political and corporate barters and brinkmanship - as revealed by the Neera Radia tapes.
There are already a few examples and success stories that give credence to the belief that Citizen Journalism is a viable alternate to conventional media. The most exemplary examples are the role of Citizen Journalism in the 2002 Korean elections - when democracy itself was going through an acid test, and the 2007 Australian federal elections, in which the role of citizen journalists proved to be decisive.
This inherent power of Citizen Journalism is acknowledged by most conventional media players across the globe. While they have adopted and incorporated Citizen Journalism as a voluntary news gathering platform, their intent and objective is more confined to using it as a latest marketing tool. Indeed, Citizen Journalism has the potential to emerge as an effective tool to keep a check on conventional media. Nevertheless, this phenomenon has a long way to go in finding wider acceptance.
Every option comes with its own set of opportunities and pressure points, and Citizen Journalism is no exception. While the very thought of democratization of media and creating a watchdog for media sounds appealing, we must tread with caution. Unrestrained freedom can be a recipe for chaos and anarchy. Citizen Journalism can succumb to misuse of the right to free press as much as conventional journalism.
There must be rules, guidelines and definitions in place to ensure credibility and quality of people-generated news. Newsroom control is not desirous for people-generated news, though, moderation is required to differentiate between newsworthy and non-newsworthy news stories within the universe of Citizen Journalism in a transparent manner, which is open to public scrutiny.
Indeed, the ecosystem of Citizen Journalism is evolving. In a limited way it has proved its value and utility. Citizen Journalism has already found its place as an alternate media, and it's only a matter of time that with innovation and use of technology it will redfine the way news is reported and disseminated.

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