Social Media and Citizen Witnessing

Citizen journalists are ‘amateur media producers’ that ‘typically have little or no training of professional qualifications as journalists, they write and report from their positions as citizens, as members of the community, as activists, as fans’ (Atton, 2009, p. 265). This is the phenomenon of ‘democratizing journalism’ (Meijer, 2010, p. 327)whereby traditional news coverage with its ‘he said, she said formulaic appeals to objectivity to dry, distancing lecture-type mode of address is looking increasingly anachronistic’(Allen, 2013, p. 65)in comparison to ‘raw, immediate and independent’ (Allen, 2013, p. 65)user generated content.

Citizen journalism has ‘inspired a language of democratisation’, it is ‘journalism by the people, for the people’ (Allen, 2013, p. 65). This shift in ‘bottom-up journalism’, rather than ‘top-down’ (Allen, 2013, p. 64)lends the user generated content, which is gradually seeping into professional news coverage, a certain authenticity as members of the public trust the veracity of their fellow citizens.

One example of the proliferation of citizen journalism, where technology has ‘played an important role as disruptor and enabler’ (Bruns & Highfield, 2015, p. 1)of user generated content, is blogging, which ‘combines the individual approach often found in fanzines with the social responsibility of local alternative journalism’ (Atton, 2009, p. 271). Common types of citizen journalism involving blogs are ‘amateur investigative journalism’ and ‘eyewitness reporting’ (Atton, 2009, p. 271). This type of citizen journalism though which, ultimately is hosted online and published to a global audience, brings into question the distinction between professional and citizen journalism. ‘The blog has become an alternative and a mainstream practice’(Atton, 2009, p. 272), utilised by amateurs and professionals alike. So, what is the distinction? Citizen journalists may be ‘cheap and popular’, but ‘in a world where facts matter, ethical codes warrant respect and audience trust is paramount’ (Allen, 2013, p. 65), some argue that ‘where public opinion is at stake and effecting change is concerned’, the role of the news media is ‘brought to light’ (Allen, 2013, p. 70).

However, the belief that citizen journalism is ‘raw’ and ‘independent’ (Allen, 2013, p. 65)rather relies on said citizens being totally objective. Journalists, in their roles as ‘arbiters of the truth’ (Robinson, 2018, p. 20), have a responsibility to ‘find out what has happened and to tell it with precision and clarity’ (Ward, 2005). Citizen journalists, though, do not. Despite this, ordinary people still have political allegiances, they may still hold outlandish or extremist views. They may intentionally capture news which helps to reflect their personal or political proclivities. As a result, the issue of trust emerges once more. 


Allen, S., 2013. Citizen Witnessing : Revisioning Journalism in Times of Crisis. 1st ed. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Atton, C., 2009. Alternative and Citizen Journalism. In: K. Wahl-Jorgensen & H. Thomas, eds. The Handbook of Journalism Studies. London: Routledge, pp. 265-278.

Bruns, A. & Highfield, T., 2015. Blogs, Twitter, and breaking news: The produsage of citizen journalism. In: R. A. Lind, ed. The produsage of citizen journalism. In Lind, R A (Ed.) Produsing Theory in a Digital World: The Intersection of Audiences and Production in Contemporary Theory. Bern: Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, p. 1.

Meijer, I. C., 2010. DEMOCRATIZING JOURNALISM? Realizing the citizen’s agenda for local news media. Journalism Studies, XI(3), pp. 327-342.

Robinson, N., 2018. Press Freedom; Press Responsibility. In: C. Foster-Gilbert, ed. The Power of Journalists. London: Haus Publishing, pp. 15-28.

Ward, S. J. A., 2005. Philosophical Foundations for Global Journalism Ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, XX(1), pp. 3-21.

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