Jay Rosen, a Professor of Journalism at New York University, has described Citizen Journalism as “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another” but what is citizen journalism really?
Our good friend Wikipedia says:
“The concept of citizen journalism (also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic”),“guerrilla” or “street” journalism is based upon public citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing, and disseminating news and information.”
Now that we’ve found the official definition let’s explore this urban phenomenon in-depth. Remember the assassination of the 35th President of the United States John F. Kennedy in November 1963? No? I don’t either but we’ve all probably either heard of it or at least read about it. Abraham Zapruder, a Russian clothing manufacturer, recorded the entire 26.6 seconds event on a home-movie video camera and is often referred to as the godfather of citizen journalism. He inadvertently founded a new form of media that would evolve and become the enforcer of many a revolution.
Closer to home, the Arab Spring phenomenon is probably the most recent incidence of mass citizen journalism to rock the world. A spectacular series of youth-led revolutions against autocratic rule that swept across Northern Africa in 2011, citizen journalism has perhaps never shone brighter. The revolutions were markedly powered by the increased use of social media as the primary meeting place of Egypt’s revolution, Tahir Square, was shared by thousands of people on Facebook & Twitter while videos were posted on Youtube raising awareness & excitement about the cause. Due to the reach of the World Wide Web, these messages quickly went far beyond Egypt and eventually reached other countries, thus circumventing state owned media outlets that tried to pacify the ensuing revolution.
Social media usage doubled in the Arab nations during these uprisings and the sudden influx in usage proved who the instigators of these riots and protests were – young people. Egypt’s young people took an everyday modern tool and turned it into a weapon to shed light on the autocracy that was Mubarak’s government and mobilize support for the uprisings all over the world. As compared to rebel wars in other African countries like Sudan, citizen journalism doesn’t actually require one to be on the front lines with a machine gun, the distribution of information and the crippling of the government’s manipulation of information (propaganda) is the primary objective and was achieved successfully during the Arab Spring uprisings.
Wael Abbas is one of the most prominent citizen journalists that are currently active, he gained popularity (and notoriety) in Egypt for broadcasting videos of police brutality and mob harassment of women on his YouTube account. His actions resulted in the arrest of several policemen but not without repercussions as he was constantly harassed by the Egyptian government which subsequently resulted in 2 of his Yahoo email accounts and his YouTube account being shut down, his channel was filled with videos of police brutality, voting irregularities and anti-government protests.
Citizen Journalism also touched our shores after phillip was here in 2010, Sony partnered with FIFA to start the Siyakhona initiative where young people in Khayelitsha and Alexandra were trained to become citizen video journalists and community activists. Citizen journalists were mandated by their respective communities to research the root causes of their biggest challenges, produce call to action films as a tool to get the community to stand together, find effective solutions and seek support to drive social change.
Now that I’ve schooled you on what Citizen Journalism is and I’ve showed you some practical examples of how it’s affected history it’s time that you and I take the initiative and become citizen journalists ourselves because this country we live in is ours, without us young people it would crumble to the ground. So here is a crash course in citizen journalism –
You will need:
- A smartphone (preferably not a BlackBerry)
- Reliable battery life (see my point?)
- Sufficient data (because setting yourself alight isn’t advisable)
- A sharp eye to capture just the perfect moment
- Network coverage (sorry people in Welkom)
Now go out there and make the news instead of reading it, become the media instead of following it!
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