Citizen Journalism

I’ve delivered a couple of “citizen journalism” workshops (a combination of lectures and hands-on tutorials) to the undergraduate students of the Journalism and Broadcasting programmes, thanks to my colleague Mike Henfield who invited me to speak about the “future of journalism”.

The session was interactive, theoretically-informed and practically useful. It was not difficult to find examples concerning user-generated news, and how they got quoted, re-used, (re-)framed and (re-)broadcasted in mainstream media. For example, on the day I delivered my sessions, the news about the revelation of the true identity of “Belle de Jour” was covered widely in mainstream media (in Guardian, the Times and even the Metro). I used that example to open the lecture and to demonstrate how a piece of user-generated news (the blog kept by Brooke Magnanti) was turned into a news article in newspapers, and how news travel around multiple platforms.

During my lecture, Mike (Henf2) asked a very good and stimulating question:

Do the value we hold for judging what is newsworthy and the way through which we select and produce news in this so-called “citizen journalism” era differ from those in the old/dinosaur times?

Honestly, I don’t have an answer for that. But I don’t think the professional journalism will disappear with the emergence of citizen journalism, though the boundary between citizen/amateur journalism and professional journalism is going to become thinner and thinner. With all the technologies made available to us, news are going to travel faster, farther and wider. But of course citizen journalism also comes with some risks, such as information overload, uneven quality of news, loss of privacy (being watched and observed by people around you, not just by the state in this case, and leaving a digital trail somewhere even if activities are conducted off-line). But aren’t these known problems to us for the past centuries (ever since the invention of printed “newspapers”)? The creation of many journalist professional societies and watchdogs and NGOs are for tackling these issues, right? Borrowing Bruno Latour’s book title, I could say that “We Have Never Been Modern“.

It was beyond my expectation that students would be so fond of creating their own blogs. A student was making her blog on fashion – she told me that H&M was going to sell Jimmy Choo’s shoes. That’s news to me. And it was rewarding to see students get so engaged.

When asked to summarise what they learned, students, again, gave so much positive feedback. And my favourite is this one from a quiet girl sitting in the back in the corner: “get involved”, she said. That, to me, is the essence of citizen journalism. And coming from her mouth, I truly felt that I’ve done a good job.

Now, my colleague Steve Panter has asked me to do a couple of wokrshops for his MA students in Journalism. I look forward to doing it, again. And I think I will take Mike Henf2’s suggestion to develop the materials into a proper module.

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