1.1     Background of the Study

The concept of citizen journalism has been variously called “public”, “participatory”, “democratic”, “guerrilla’ or “street” journalism.” Bowman and Willis (2003) define this brand of journalism as “the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information, the intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.” Radsch (2013), vividly captures the spirit and essence of citizen journalism in his definition of the concept as “an alternative and activist form of newsgathering and reporting that functions outside mainstream media institutions, often as a repose to shortcoming in the professional journalistic field, that uses similar journalistic practices but is driven by different objectives and ideals and relies on alternative sources of legitimacy than traditional or mainstream journalism.”

Citizen journalism is the reverse of the straight-jacket, near unilateral top-down communication system of the mainstream media. Bowman and Willis (2003) state that, “Participatory journalism is a bottom-up, emergent phenomenon in which there is little or no editorial oversight or formal journalistic workflow dictating the decisions of a staff. Instead, it is the result of many simultaneous, distributed conversations that either blossom or quickly atrophy in the Web’s social network.” They observe that “the fluidity of this approach puts more emphasis on the publishing of information rather than the filtering. Conversations happen in the community for all to see. In contrast, traditional news organizations are set up to filter information before they publish it.” In its true nature, citizen journalism allows no room for gate keeping. In this brand of journalism, information gets to the members of public, who are directly involved in content creation, raw, ‘naked’ and undiluted.

Over the years, there seems to be some confusion regarding the meaning and nature of citizen journalism. This is evident in the numerous names it has been called, as enumerated above. Pondering on this, Meyer (2005). observes that “one measure of the discomfort that journalists feel over the concept of public journalism is the great variety of names given it, e.g. civic journalism, citizen journalism, community journalism, or communitarian journalism.” He further states: Part of the blame for the confusion must go to the early promoters of public journalism who have steadfastly refused to give it a definition or anything more than a vague theoretical structure. Because it is an idea in development, they say, a definition would needlessly limit it. Maybe so. But one consequence is that debating public journalism is like arguing over a Rorschach test. Each sees in it the manifestation of his or her fondest hopes or worst fears.

The confusion is apparently fuelled by uncertainties about what constitutes citizen journalism and who citizen journalists are. This explains why Glaser (2006). notes that “There is some controversy over the term citizen journalism, because many professional journalists believe that only a trained journalist can understand the rigors and ethics involved in reporting the news. And conversely, there are many trained journalists who practice what might be considered citizen journalism by writing their own blogs or commentary online outside of the traditional journalism hierarchy.”

The seaming confusion and misconception notwithstanding, citizen journalism is simply the emerging brand of journalism in which the content is user-generated, unedited, uncensored and comes real-time. The definition by Professor Jay Rosen, cited in Moller (2012), gives an insight into the nature of citizen journalism concept: “citizen journalism is when people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.” With this, it is obvious that a person does not necessarily need a former training in journalism to be a citizen journalist, especially in this era of astounding ubiquity of the social media. What one needs to participate in the growing citizen journalism spectrum is just a fair knowledge of the operations and manipulations of the social media.