With advancements in technology giving citizens the means to become more than just sedentary internalizers of information, the meaning of journalism has been changed completely. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, allow citizens to take charge of information like never before. Everyday people are able to filter through information, create their own information, and share information faster and more efficient than ever. As Jay Rosen put it “the people formerly known as the audience” have taken on a new role in society; that of the citizen journalist. This has had a huge impact on the news and media industry. As Bruns argued, the newfound potential of citizen journalism has completely transformed the role of the “audience” from fairly inactive gatekeeping participants to the much more active role of gatewatching, which allows citizens to have a larger say in what is important in the news world.
In order to explore this phenomenon more in depth, let us look at real life examples of social media impacting the world of journalism. One of the most prominent examples of this occurred in 2011 when, without explicitly knowing it, a Pakistani citizen with the Twitter handle @ReallyVirtual tweeted about the unusual occurrence of a helicopter circling overhead.
He did not know it at the time, but these tweets would be the first available information on the Navy Seal raid that lead to the finding and death of Osama Bin Laden. This was one of the biggest stories of 2011 and it was broke not by a professional journalist or media conglomerate, but rather by an IT guy with an affinity for social media. The fact that some of the most important information can be broadcast worldwide be a mere civilian clearly illustrates just how powerful a tool social networking has becomes, as well as how the world of news and journalism has changed completely.
@ReallyVirtual’s tweet immediately went viral not because it trickled down vertically from a hierarchical organization, but because it expanded horizontally due to other civilians sharing the information. This demonstrates exactly what Bruns meant with the term gatewatching. Rather than just accept, process, and evaluate information from the higher-ups, citizens are now able to make the news themselves and share it worldwide within an extremely short period of time.
As Bruns pointed out in an article addressing this change in media and journalism structure, the citizen journalism movement has many potential implications for the industry. For one, it makes professional journalism far less significant. This is understandable because now that everyone has the ability to dictate and report news, what’s so special about journalism? This is a valid concern from those in the profession, but because of the extreme necessity for information in our society, I believe that there will always be a need for professional journalists. But the larger implication of the citizen journalism movement is the never before seen power of the everyday person. By empowering the individual, social media has created a new interest in current events. Furthermore, now that they have the means, citizens are able influence the world like never before. Because of this, there is unlimited potential as to what anyone can do.