Citizen Journalism Movement

OhmyNewsis much like any other news site you’d run across online, but with one distinct difference: all of the 200-plus articles that OhmyNews publishes each day are written by citizens, not professional journalists.

Launched in 2000, on a template that was only slightly more advanced than an electronic bulletin board, OhmyNews began as South Korean citizens’ answer to the three conservative newspapers that dominate the country’s mainstream media. Its goal? To return power to the people.

"They [the mainstream South Korean media] often don’t represent public opinion," said Eun Taek Hong, Editor in Chief of OhmyNews’s English-language site, OhmyNews International. "Instead, they commercialize news or focus on their own agenda. OhmyNews has been trying to give back voices to citizens."

And the citizens have proven to be as articulate and credible as professional journalists, according to Hong. Moreover, other citizens are listening. A 2004 survey by the South Korean magazine Sisa Journal found that OhmyNews was the sixth most influential media outlet in the country.

As such, OhmyNews is the leading force in the rising "citizen journalism" movement, in which everyday folks are collecting and disseminating the news, opinions, and information that matter to them most. Underlying the movement is the proliferation of Web-based publishing technologies, like blogs and wikis, that give almost anyone — or any organization — the power to launch a media outlet.

"Media tools that were once exclusively held by big companies have evolved over the Web and are now part of what the public owns," said New York University Journalism Professor Jay Rosen. "That’s new and different. It’s a very democratic development."

Citizen Journalism’s Many Forms

Though the definition of citizen journalism varies depending on who you talk to, the act of citizen journalism can be as simple as an involved community member posting entries on a public wiki or uploading photos and videos to a media-sharing site.

For instance, at Wikipedia, contributors from around the world are helping build the world’s largest online encyclopedia. The whole community polices the wiki and adds entries — the result of which is a free, international, community-owned body of knowledge. This ever-changing encyclopedia is constantly being updated and houses entries about everything from architecture to human rights to citizen journalism.

Blogging is another tool that has proven useful to the citizen journalism movement. Organizations like Community United Against Violence(CUAV), which fights to end the oppression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) community, are using blogs to tell the stories that the mainstream media are missing. During the 2004 trial of three men accused of killing a transgender teen, CUAV started a blog to offer a view inside the proceedings from a trusted source, pass along transcripts of the trial, and create a platform for the larger community to discuss the trial.

Another nonprofit, Witness, is undertaking its own form of citizen journalism by helping other nonprofits create advocacy videos. The United States–based organization assists human-rights groups around the world in planning, filming, and distributing advocacy videos, which are featured on Witness’ site for the world to see, serve as evidence in court hearings, or are used as an educational tool.

But Is It Journalism?

The question of whether citizen journalism is considered real journalism is still up for debate. Some may argue that only paid journalists working for traditional news outlets like newspapers and magazines are legitimate. But most bloggers contend they aren’t interested in replacing the professionals, and don’t even consider themselves journalists.

"If I have one hundred conversations about whether bloggers are going to replace journalists, no blogger predicts themselves replacing news media," said NYU Journalism Professor Rosen. "Journalists invented [the problem of bloggers replacing journalists], and are forever discovering that this isn’t true. It’s their conversation they’re having with themselves." What needs to happen, Rosen argues, is less arguing and more discussions about how journalism can evolve.

NewAssignment.net is an example of how journalists are reacting to the movement. Slated to launch on April 1, 2007, the site will encourage citizen journalists and professional reporters to "do journalism without the media," free of the commercial pressures that plague many news agencies. Rather than reporters and editors discussing articles in the closed confines of a newsroom, NewAssignment.net’s stories would be fleshed out on the site "in the open," with a sort of open-source approach.

This, according to NewAssignment’s founders, means that the site’s users will be the ones creating story ideas and assignments "that the regular news media doesn’t do, can’t do, wouldn’t do, or already screwed up." The articles would be paid for through donations, which NewAssignment.net’s founders believe will help encourage quality reporting.

Taking Steps to Start Your Own Citizen Journalism Movement

Though the form of citizen journalism continues to evolve, it’s clear that nonprofits seeking social change or directly serving underrepresented populations may benefit from adopting some of its tenets and technologies. This could mean adding tools like blogs and wikis to their Web sites in order to give their constituents a stronger voice.

JD Lasica, Cofounder of Ourmedia.org, a community of individuals dedicated to spreading grassroots creativity with videos, audio, photos, text, and other works of personal media, says that starting your own citizen journalism movement is as easy as starting a conversation.

"Invite interested members of the community to your offices and find out what they’re passionate about," he said. "Experiment by letting them submit photos and videos of events they attend, which is easier to do than writing a news story. Don’t be afraid to fail. See what other news organizations with similar resources have done by reaching out to talented amateurs."

Most importantly, says Lasica, remember that citizen journalism is about engaging your constituents and enabling them to participate.

"The digital generation wants to engage media, not just watch it or view it," said Lasica.

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