The Power of Citizen Journalism

In the early hours of the morning after the 2012 Aurora, CO theater mass shooting, professional journalists were  rushing to provide an accurate timeline of what exactly occurred inside. Both local and national news outlets scrambled to present breaking news to the public; however, little did they know, 18-year old Morgan Jones of Denver had already posted a minute-by-minute thread of up-to-the-moment information on the social media site, Reddit. What is rather shocking was how it evolved into a cohesive narrative of the tragedy.  It grew far beyond Reddit’s character limit and eventually overflowed into ten additional posts (of which you can find starting here). Morgan combined traditional media reports along with police scanner information, and social media updates. Morgan unknowingly became a “Produser”, in that he was producing information of various sources into a singular news-feed of information, as merely a general user of the social media site. His profession isn’t that of a journalist, not even a junior reporter, but that of a Gatecrasher. Morgan chose NOT to have his voice heard through traditional mainstream media channel, but rather via his own profile on Reddit. Social media’s rise in prominence is what ultimately lead to this new edge to citizen journalists, because now anyone and anything can become viral in an instant. Gone are the days where only mainstream media determined what is/isn’t deemed “newsworthy”. The citizens role has taken a new, and interesting form as a result.

During the early hours of the tragedy Morgan’s coverage of the shootings was not only done in real-time, but became the most comprehensive source of information. Actual professional reporters even began looking to the Reddit posts themselves, only to repeat what Morgan had already compiled, says Linda Sharps at The Stir. The fact that an 18-year old sitting at his home in front of his computer was able to out-scoop the media alone is not only astonishing, but opens up a new realm of possibilities of citizen journalism. What we witnessed signaled just how effective a citizen journalist can be, by providing real-time updates from eye-witness accounts who posted their own stories via Twitter & Reddit. The news was more raw and more real in that it came directly from the individual’s personal account. Was the news thread of information 100% accurate, no. But Morgan didn’t just “copy and paste” and move on, he made the effort to correct old information, address questions from users, and continue to provide updates throughout the night. He stated that the Reddit community’s own demand for transparency is what influenced his conscious decision to share the data.

   I don’t delete things and replace them with something else. I do a strike through and put [latest information] I have below so it gives people an idea of how it’s changing. So it’s transparent. People will put up with minor inaccuracies because they know someone will call them out and change it. (source) -Morgan Jones

The inaccurate tendencies is something that the mainstream media made sure to pick up on as CNN’s Howard Kurtz went on to criticize Reddit on-air. During CNN’s Reliable Sources, Kurtz took note of how the public should take everything from citizen journalist’s reporting with a grain of salt because of the fact that information can be inaccurate. Kurtz suggests that this isn’t the case with traditional mainstream media, and that the media will tell the public what is right and what is wrong, because they undergo certain processes of fact-checking and gatekeeping. The flow of information is to be trusted and respected he states, because the media won’t tell things that are in the heat of the moment.

The power of the internet really revealed itself as Reddit users were able to unearth something every news outlet missed, an adultfriendfinder.com profile of the shooter, 24-year old suspect, James Holmes. It was first posted as unconfirmed to the site, and as it garnered more and more attention, the news and police soon took notice of this development. The profile picture matched the description of Holmes provided by police when he was arrested, and the overall appearance resembled photos released to the public. Soon afterward, TMZ, The Huffington Post, and CNN reported the profile, but without crediting Reddit for its initial discovery.

While Kurtz’s argument is valid, the future of citizen journalism does STILL seem a bit brighter. What Morgan Jones was able to accomplish was newsworthy itself, he crashed the gates and became something the media could not ignore. Morgan Jones showed us how to crash the gates and become more of a gatewatcher, as he was curating/controlling what news to display on the feed. Thus providing the public an important and vital service. The fact he took into account the Reddit community’s need for transparency alludes to how he opened up the discussion and allowed for that audience engagement that the mainstream media lacks. Traditional journalists do have certain advantages that citizens do not; such as resources and contacts. So we need not to compare and contrast the two in a way of doing away with one, but rather, learn to incorporate BOTH into one cohesive new form of journalism. Citizen journalism should not “replace” in any way, but CAN bring forth additional benefits that the mainstream media doesn’t. In internet’s ability to provide on-the-ground reporting from first-hand witnesses gives the public something no reporter could ever access. The mainstream media should find ways of letting the people contribute in as many ways as possible, and to take advantage of the fact that journalism is everywhere.

Sources:

http://theweek.com/article/index/231070/reddits-coverage-of-the-colorado-massacre-the-future-of-citizen-journalism

http://thestir.cafemom.com/technology/140813/colorado_shootings_details_reported_best

http://www.reddit.com/r/news/comments/wv8t1/comprehensive_timeline_aurora_massacre/

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/cnns-howard-kurtz-attacks-reddit-showing-that-either-he-doesnt-get-it-or-just-likes-being-the-stodgy-old-media-guy/

http://www.mediaite.com/online/colorado-theater-shooting-witnesses-take-to-twitter-and-reddit-to-share-their-stories/

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/23/reddit-aurora-shooter-aff/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

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