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Contemplating Citizen Journalism

Photo by Ovetta Sampson

In the last couple of years the world map has changed dramatically. Regimes were toppled, dictators killed and whole regions emerged transformed. But few of us would have gleaned the dirty details of democracy creation without the courageous work of ordinary citizens.

From their blogs, Tweets, Facebook pages, YouTube Videos and UStream broadcasts, the world’s citizens augmented the the world media with their dispatches from their Internet cafes, mobile makeshift newsrooms and basement command centers.

Layla Revis, VP of digital influence at Ogilvy PR Worldwide, opines on the significance of the rise of the citizen journalist in her recent post  “How Citizen Journalism is Reshaping Media and Democracy.”

The citizen journalist provides invaluable information that can democratize media, as well as nations,

She also highlights one of the most salient trends to come out of all this new media:

As traditional newsrooms become more constrained by time and resources, the advent of user-generated content on the web can only strengthen journalism.

Whether media professionals like it or not, citizens are leveraging emerging technologies to tell their story to each other and the world. To be honest most of the news curated online comes from the major media networks and newspapers. But increasingly non-traditional news sources such as TMZ.com and the Twitter-fueled Breakingnews.com are breaking news daily beating most other major news outlets.

As a friend once told me, “I could care less who is giving me the news as much as I care about the content they’re providing. As long as its accurate and tells me what I want to know, who cares if it comes from the New York Times.”

The online explosion of media content has eroded some of the trust in big media as people can now see behind the curtain.  No longer is the Associated Press or Reuters the only one with access to a photo in some far-flung land that’s having a crisis. Now millions of images of that same incident is being broadcasts around the world through the magic of cell phones and iPads. Mainstream news media are not the only ones spoon feeding our news. The news, once a complicated dish served  by only a few pampered chefs, is now a communal smorgasbord prepared by everyone in the kitchen.

I agree with Revis in her assessment that

Citizen journalism, on the other hand, allows marginalized people to reclaim their voices, to tell their otherwise silenced stories firsthand.

To me this transformation of media power, on the whole is a good thing. As a journalist who has traveled to more than 30 countries it always struck me that I was missing most of the story.

Sure, I was thorough, diligent, careful, ethical and curious. But no matter how long I was in a region, no matter how well, or unwell I spoke the language, I never knew more than the wonderful and beautiful people who were my guides or translating for me. Yet they were not writers and I was. But there’s only one of me.

I remember being in crowded, industrial neighborhood just north of Cairo. The people there had just been attacked. I was just there to see some friends but when they found out I was a writer they swarmed me. Over and over the people tugged my shirt, pulled my arm, entreating me to listen to them. They wanted their story told. They wanted people in America to know what had happened to them – not them as a collective group of Egyptian but them as the “farmer,” the “bricklayer,” the minister and the “garbage truck driver.” Their stories were compelling, heartbreaking and hopeful and they needed to be told. Alas, there is only one of me.

I began thinking…if there was a way to teach these eager women, men and youth what I learned, just the basics of telling stories what a powerful agent for change that would be.

Instead of looking upon citizen journalists as competition, the WMN journalists who are instructors see them as fellow storytellers. We embrace their passion to tell the globe about their world. WMN exists to empower would-be citizen journalists, providing them the practical, ethical and creative strategies to create compelling content.

No one wants a world filled with bad, inaccurate and biased news. World Media Now exists to ensure that doesn’t happen. Supporting citizen journalists by sharing known journalism truths can only help the world change for the better. We’re so excited to be apart of the changing media landscape.

What about you? Do you think the emerging citizen journalist trend is good or bad or are you neutral? Is more news good news or too much?