Jim Pettiward explains the origin, meaning and use of the expression 'citizen journalism' and some of its colloquial synonyms. Click below to listen:
‘Citizen journalism’. ‘Citizen journalism’. You probably know both of those words on their own. A citizen? A member of a city or state. You may even remember ‘netizen’ from Series 2, ‘a citizen of the internet’. I expect you know that a journalist is generally someone who writes for a newspaper or magazine. But what does it mean when you put the two words together?
The incredible rise of the internet has brought countless changes to the way we communicate and get our information. It’s hard to think of any aspect of our daily lives which hasn’t been affected by the spread of the internet and mobile technology, and news and journalism is certainly no exception.
The easy availability of mobile phones which can take high quality video and photographs and record sound means that almost anybody who is on the scene of a newsworthy event is able to record it. News organisations are only too happy to use the public as a vast - and cheap - source of content for its news items, as it’s impossible to have reporters and correspondents everywhere. In fact, in a sense, we have become their eyes and ears on the ground. We can all become ‘citizen journalists’, although many ‘real journalists’ are not happy with the idea that everybody can do what they do…
Think of some memorable recent news events… you can bet that some of the images which you associate with them are examples of ‘citizen journalism’. Coverage of the Asian tsunami, the London bombings in 2005, the floods in New Orleans, or the terrorist attacks in Mumbai all made extensive use of mobile phone photos and video sent in by members of the public. When a plane was forced to land in the Hudson River in January 2009, the most up-to-date news came from ordinary people using Twitter on their mobiles to describe what was happening and send pictures.
I sometimes imagine what it would be like if current mobile technology had been around at key moments in history. Can you imagine watching mobile phone footage of the last moments of the Titanic, or frantic twitterers relating the storming of the Bastille in Paris? Going further back, what if we had mobile phone footage of the Great Fire of London or the Battle of Hastings? If you could be a citizen journalist in any historical period, which one would you choose?
About Jim Pettiward
Jim Pettiward has a BA (hons) in French and Spanish, CTEFLA and Trinity TESOL Diploma. He has taught EFL, EAP, ESP and Business English in Ecuador, Venezuela, Hungary and the UK. He has also worked as an ICT trainer for the British Council and the University of the Arts, London. He is currently teaching English for Academic Purposes in the Department of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education at London Metropolitan University.