Citizen journalism?

Social media have come to stay and they have changed completely the landscape when a disaster strikes.  We all know wonderful examples of citizens being rescued thanks to social media geolocated post (as in Turkey) as well as the possibility to add information that can help emergency services to get a better picture of what’s going on thanks to these post in social media by anonymous people. Social media saves lives and this is out of discussion nowadays. What I like to discuss today is the name we call that activity consisting, basically, on anyone armed with a smartphone (tablet, computer, etc) sharing text, pictures or video through social media. To have a better idea of the concept, you can see Tony Rogers post, whose content I basically agree.

I’ve been thinking for quite a time in the term citizen journalism and I came to the conclusion that we really should find a better name for this activity. It sounds to me that we all see the advantages when the story has a happy ending. Let me just remind you that we live in the era of co-creation, and thanks to social media, we have a great opportunity to be part of the story rather than to be told what  the commercial brands used to sell.

The message is not unilateral anymore, and that is good. Thanks to this co-creation process the way we watch TV or go a show live is a completely different experience and this is great for many reasons.

I believe that we all could agree till here. But what happen when we are talking of an emergency and there are people sharing pictures though social media saying things like a person has died during the explosion or blood is needed at some point and this information is not true? Who is responsible of these rumors being spread through social media? Obviously, they who share the information. But it is when this occurs when we all start thinking whether this is journalism or it is something else.

In the picture above, someboy called @ineslr73 shares a picture of a building in Madrid where an explosion has taken place and says: "It seems that there are dead people".

She argues with Madrid 112 Press Manager, @LuisSerranoR, who asks her not to spread rumor nor to create social alarm. In a more than casual tone ( to me an offensive one)  she offers to delete the picture.

She explained then that it has been her sister who lives near the building and who has taken the picture.

This is a citizen armed with a smartphone sharing a picture from a non trusted source of information and creating social alarm. It is clear to me that she has not even thought for a second of those people who live in the building neither on their families. Would you call that (citizen) journalism?

Shoemakers make shoes, journalists do journalism

I am not saying, by any means, that ordinary citizens shouldn’t use social media when an emergency strikes, nor that what they share is worthless. I like to make it clear that social media are good value in these cases as I have always written in this blog. To put but one example, VOST teams work very well in emergencies and many of its members are not journalist.  The difference here is that they use official sources. As we (the journalists) do, they corroborate the source of the information, something that, generally speaking, is not an issue for the ordinary citizens, as shows the example above. Let’s say that people, and to some extend (see below) the media, rush to share information without thinking twice.

Besides, it is good when citizens use social media during a disaster because it helps the authorities and firsts responders to make civil protection. At the same time, the citizens are empowered by being capable to access the information they need to protect themselves through social media.

Is journalism at a loose end? Where is the journalism reputation?

It caught my attention the undeniable fact that some journalists and media seem to have forgotten how to do our job. Since social media started it seems to me that the old uses of corroborating the source of information and the rest of good practices what we learned at College and working in traditional media are old fashioned. Why is that? We know why: due to the urgent need to be the first source of information, competing in Twitter, what anyone armed with a smartphone (journalist or not, including the- to me misnamed- citizen journalism)
You can see examples of what I mean here  and in the picture below.

The picture of the former president of Venezuela
Hugo Chavez is a fake

When the first newspaper in Spain has reached the point to publish a false picture of former President Hugo Chavez there is little more to say… not to remember the great amount of false pictures uploaded to social media of hurricane Sandy.

The misnamed revolutionary tax versus (the misnamed?) citizen journalism

During Franco dictatorship , after the Spanish Civil War, many of you would remember that here in Spain we have a huge problem in the North of Spain (Basque Country), with a terrorist band called ETA. They used to blackmail the businessmen who have their industries in the Basque Country and that blackmailing was called “The revolutionary task”.  In the 90’s I used to work for a Radio Station in Madrid and we (the journalist) started to called that the “misnamed revolutionary tax”. For one simple reason: that was not a tax.

From my point of view, citizen journalism is not journalism. Journalism is what journalists practice. What the citizen share, using their right to express themselves using social media, is something else. Besides the terminology issue, if we are talking about emergencies, “you do need to watch what people post”, as Steve Outing explains so well in this interesting article.

What do you think?

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