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Power of Citizen Journalists

There is no denying that citizen journalists need to be taken seriously. Anyone can be a citizen journalist, and many people are taking advantage of that opportunity. All people need is an internet connection and they can entire the journalism industry full force.

Mayhill Fowler is an example of a citizen journalist who has exemplified the power they can have. As a reporter for the Off the Bus project for The Huffington Post, she has broken stories that only she had access to. Her reporting on bitter and elitist comments that then campaign-hopeful Barack Obama made and nasty comments Bill Clinton made about a Vanity Fair reporter contributed to national headlines. These stories didn’t just stay on her HuffPost blog. Mainstream journalists picked up the stories and her journalism was being followed.

This is just one example of a citizen journalist who covered important issues that professional journalists weren’t covering. Citizen journalists tend to have different interests and agendas when they are covering issues, compared to professional journalists, which influences the topics they cover. They also tend to have access to different people and events that traditional journalists don’t have access to or don’t know about.

This was also the case with Fowler during some of the campaign stops. In a Salon article Alex Koppelman brought up the ethical issue of Fowler having access to a non-press event and not disclosing herself as a journalism to Clinton. Had Fowler distinguished herself as a journalist she may not have gotten access to the stories she covered. Even though she is a citizen journalist, she should still hold herself to the same journalistic standards professional journalists follow, if she wanted to be treated and respected as a journalist. While not every journalist discloses their agenda or their profession in a given situation, it is something journalists, even citizen journalists should strive for. Getting the hard-hitting important story is important, but it is also important to conduct yourself ethically and with integrity.

Fowler may not have conducted herself as I would have put in her situations, but it is undeniable she did important journalist work when she was only considered a citizen journalist. Citizen journalists have just as much opportunity and potential to cover the important stories as professional journalists.

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Bearing Witness to News

In Arianna Huffington’s blog post, “Bearing Witness 2.0: You Can’t Spin 10,000 Tweets and Camera Phone Uploads,” she addressed the issue of whether eyewitness reporting is always the best method for reporting the most accurate story. In theory, it would make sense that being on the ground witnessing the event would allow for the most accurate portrayal of events, but Huffington does not think that always produces the best story. This may have been the case before “new media,” like Facebook and Twitter, but we have emerged into a time where different resources need to be utilized to see the full picture and have a deeper understanding of the story.

When the Chinese government is personally walking journalists through an event giving them an eye witness account, how can it be argued that their story is more accurate than journalists using the stories people were telling who were involved with the event and had their accounts removed from the Internet by the Chinese government? The government has complete power in revealing what the journalists see and know, and the journalists can see and believe what they want instead of understanding the fuller picture. Journalists should consider all means of retrieving information to more accurately understand an event or story. It is more difficult to deny actual pictures on Twitter and videos on Youtube than an official statement from the government.

It is crucial that journalists understand that media is changing and the methods of obtaining a story are changing. Independent bloggers and journalists were quick to adopt using social media and “non-eyewitness” means of reporting to get their stories to their readers. It is possible to accurately cover a story and still get the atmosphere of the event without actually being on the ground covering it. There are people willing to share their experiences and their information and journalists should be looking to these people in their reporting.

As the Internet has proven time and time again, not everything on the Internet is true, so journalists still have the responsibility of fact checking their information and doing their best to use reliable information.  The potential that something may be wrong or need to be checked shouldn’t prohibit journalists from seeking new media as a way from telling a story. Talking to a police officer at an event could be just as misleading as someone’s tweet. Regardless of the source there always needs to be some skepticism.

One of Huffington’s final points that truly rings true is new media has given a whole new group of journalists the potential to report on different events because they no longer have to be at the event to cover it. This removes the cost and travel barrier that before only elite or mainstream journalists could overcome. New media has opened up the journalistic world for independent journalists to just as actively participate as mainstream and salaried journalists.

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