Sunday, September 14, 2008

Citizen-j, hyperlocal news, blogs

The world’s most dramatic events in recent times were broken to the world by citizen journalists. When an amateur videographer filmed the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers and millions around the world watched, it was probably a first. The initial, startling images of the tsunami in Indonesia (December 2004) and the London bombings (July 2005) came from amateur photographers. At the Virginia Tech shootout in April 2007, citizen journalists supplied invaluable material to news organisations like the CNN – pictures and video footage of the shootings taken on mobile phones.

Citizen Journalism or ‘user generated content’ till recently was one of the hottest buzzwords in the news business. Questions were raised about whether Citizen Journalism was a threat or an opportunity to professional journalists. Many felt that it would make journalism better because if the professional journalist did something wrong, he or she could be hauled up immediately. However, the issue of credibility associated with user-generated content remains.

Even today, several questions are asked: Is Citizen Journalism influencing the way journalists work? Does it encourage new thinking in the newsroom? Are journalists losing their monopoly as opinion leaders? Will readers take a more active role in the future? Is the rise of Citizen Journalism affecting the editorial process? When people are willing to go to any extent to gain publicity, how do editors check the authenticity of content and pictures? What can a newspaper do when a citizen journalist impersonates a professional journalist? Who is responsible when a citizen journalist injures himself or dies while taking pictures of accidents or terror? Indeed, the traditional view of news is changing rapidly.

Readers here might not be aware that in the developed world people are more focused on local news and the accent nowadays in newspaper and media publishing there is on what is called ‘hyperlocal’ news, an area that constitutes the core of Citizen Journalism. Residents are often keen to report on community events that mainstream newspapers tend to ignore. The Internet, far more pervasive and accessible than the telegraph in the good old days, has enabled citizens without any journalistic background to contribute to newspapers and media.

The Weblog or blog is one of the newest forms of participatory journalism to gain popularity. They have in some ways become agenda setters for traditional media. According to an MSN report, 87 percent of bloggers in India (14 percent of net users) spend up to five hours a week reading or updating their blogs. Blogs help small groups communicate, are easy to set up, operate and maintain. The technology is relatively inexpensive, sometimes even free. This allows just about anyone to become a publisher, creator and distributor of content. Blogs attract readers through word-of Unlike traditional journalists, who have to pass their work through various filters, bloggers don’t have to worry too much about being accurate or fair. They are just interested in getting their opinions across and are not likely to adopt an objective approach.

Interestingly, many journalists are bloggers too. However, blogging has given ordinary people a powerful and inexpensive publishing tool to reach out to the world with their stories and thoughts. People write for their own satisfaction. Even so, bloggers and citizen journalists need a motivator sometimes, like an editor, who can train and inspire them to churn out material week after week. Today’s audience is keen to take on the roles of publisher, broadcaster, editor, content creator and advertiser.

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