Tag Archives: citizen journalism

Is it Possible to Predict the Future of the Media?

As we have learned throughout this class, the relationship between the media and society has always been complex and multi-faceted. With technological advancements, these complexities have grown exponentially. “News” is seen much differently today than it was seen 100 years ago. Today, journalists aim to “break” the news more so than to “explain” the news. Additionally, media outlets are now look and act like traditional businesses while they used to be considered as their own category: news corporations. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the term “journalist” is expanding. Widespread and accessible technological advances allow for almost anyone to act as journalists and spread information instantly (citizen journalism).

Considering how much the media has developed in 100 years, it is very difficult to predict the future of the media. It is very apparent that technology will play a primary role; what role, exactly, is hard to determine. Media experts are also unaware of the future of the media. In an article published by The New York Times, Eric Pfanner even stated, “Predicting the outcome of a revolution is a fool’s game” when discussing technology’s future impact on the media. Despite this statement, he outlines a few inevitable facts about the evolving nature of the media.

Firstly, media will continue to digitalize making almost all media digital. Next, the globalization of media will increase and new markets will emerge. The article also mentioned the difficulty of predicting the future of particular media channels. For example, newspapers and the recording industry have been struggling lately. Is television next? According to Pfinner, probably not due to its increasing similarities to the Internet.


Hopefully the upcoming and inevitable changes will result in more civic participation from members of the society. While the changes in media could also result in isolating and dividing people, ideally, it would work to inform the masses accurately and efficiently. Overall, like Pfinner said, it is almost to impossible to predict what the media will look like when our children are grown, let alone what it will look like five years from now. 

Blunders in Citizen Journalism: the cost of gatecrashing in aftermath of Sandy Hook Massacre

With great power comes great responsibility. Jay Rosen was correct in describing citizen journalism as what occurs “[w]hen the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another,” and every day it grows more apparent that the paradigm of gatekeeping has shifted. Technological and social development have enabled us to employ those tools, and citizen journalism is here to stay.

However, with the sudden and drastic rise in its scope, exercise, and influence, we must remind ourselves that what we “report” as citizen journalists, especially when spoken in chorus with others, can have a very tangible and often serious effects.The propagation of misinformation  by acting citizen journalists in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, which transcended the usual confines of Reddit news and eventually received coverage from traditional media sources, exemplifies the nascent power–and potential for misuse–of citizen journalism.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 was, without a doubt, one of the most tragically heartbreaking events in recent American history.  The deaths of twenty first-graders and six school faculty, at the hands of a single disturbed gunman, stunned the nation and shook the collective soul of the American public to a degree of profundity eclipsing even the Columbine High School or Aurora theater shootings, and perhaps matched only by Timothy Mcveigh’s 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

With the nation reeling in despondence, confusion, and anger in the wake of the slaughter,  citizens around the country began a furious, self-accelerating collective search for answers. It was with intent to assist law-enforcement investigations and inform others that they coordinated online in the forums of news publications and on popular websites of user-submitted news and content, the most consequential of which would prove to be  Reddit.

While rampant speculation and countless conspiracy theories abounded across the online world,  one of these stories would gain enormous traction–eventually picked up by mainstream news outlets like CNN– and end up having very real consequences, damaging Reddit’s credibility (and by translation, that of citizen journalism) and nearly ruining the life of an innocent man.

In the first few days following the massacre, contributors to “the front page of the internet” mistakenly named the perpetrator of the shooting as Ryan Lanza, brother of the actual shooter Adam Lanza. Ryan, who was working and nowhere near New Town during the shootings, was named as the Sandy Hook shooter on mainstream national broadcast. Powerless to protest his innocence, Ryan was subjected to the unbridled fury of a grieving nation, receiving thousands of personal threats via social media platforms. Only after law enforcement exonerated Ryan did the media realize its mistake and momentum behind the gatecrashing finally begin to dissipate.

This debacle demonstrated just how quickly crowdsourced information can become “mob-sourced.” An even more frightening, or at the very least consequential realization from the incident was that citizen journalism, if driven by vehemence and recklessness, is capable–if even just for a day or two– of influencing and informing traditional media, reversing earlier conceptions of the relationship between the press and the public and turning the conventional conception of gatekeeping on its head.

That revelation is hugely consequential; with great power comes great responsibility. We now know that the power of citizen journalism can emulate that of the professional journalist; the question now is how do we get citizen journalism to emulate the professional journalist’s sense of responsibility, as well?

Upworthy Enough?

Upworthy is an up and coming web community full of citizen journalists posting new and “upworthy” stories. Their slogan is “Things that matter. Pass ‘em on.” So, it would appear that their goal is to have citizen become the gatekeepers in deciding what matters in our world today. They are the deciding factor in what should be passed on and what is really noteworthy and important.

Upworthy is the definition of a modern news source in so many ways. It implements citizens as gatekeepers and also gatecrashing is occurring. Non-traditional methods are being used to produce their content. They avoid mainstream media such as CNN and New York Times, but yet they are wildly popular and other non-main stream media such as Twitter and Facebook re-post Upworthy content constantly.

The website is set up so that the feature story is one selected by the authors, an example of traditional gatekeeping, the hired people selecting stories to show. Below is a section that says, “Recently Shared”. Here are stories that have been shared the most aka posted on facebook, retweeted, sent via email. This section is a great example of gatecrashing or gatewatching. The audience shares stories that they think are relevant, therefore making the more popular ones, stories that citizen journalists think are relevant and important.

These two ways, traditional and modern gatekeeping, work together in this situation to enhance the website. Having a traditional gatekeeping aspect creates a path for the citizen journalists to follow. They are most likely to click on the feature article and if they find it relevant they will repost. This is a good example of gatewatching too. The citizen journalists “watch” what the traditional gatekeepers post and if they agree they will repost and it will eventually end up in the “recently shared” category.

The challenge with Upworthy is the content itself. It ignores all traditional news values and is trying to produce a new type of news: positive news. For now it seems to be working. I see Upworthy posts constantly filling my Facebook. Whether or not it will continue to be popular is unknown, but it’s a start to new modern news and it’s a move in the right way. Having solely citizen run news and media loses credibility, but traditional gatekeeping alone is too old fashion. Upworthy is attempting to mix both and I think it’s a move in the right direction.

Citizen Journalism and Mergers

Comcast acquired Time Warner Cable this past Thursday for $45 billion.  They are predicted, if all goes as planned and the merger is approved by the federal government, to serve 1 out of every 3 homes in the United States (CNN: Gross).  Many news stations have been covering the new acquisition, and users of social media sites definitely have put in their opinions without hesitation.

CNN’s article titled “What a Comcast-Time Warner deal could mean for you,” written yesterday, summarizes the buyout as well as analyzing the new horizons of possibility for Comcast and Time Warner customers.  One way they look at this subject is using sub-headers such as “Would my bill go up?” and “What about service quality?” that go into what the upcoming changes are to the customers of these service providers.  The author of this article definitely is a gatekeeper, in choosing what topics he finds are important to share with the public, like how the new acquisition will change their service options for the worse, or the better (if you were a Time Warner user).

Social media also allowed many people to vocalize their opinions of this merger.  As social media goes, I will focus on people’s reaction via Twitter.  On a website page called “People Generally Just Really Hate Their Cable Companies,” many consumers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable show their obvious hatred of the merger.  One tweet reads “Comcast / Time Warner merger is like a merger between swine flu and the bubonic plague” (Mashable: Gerhard Stiene) while another tweet reads “Prediction: the Comcast/Time Warner merger talks will be slow, freeze a bunch of times, and eventually have to be restarted.” (Mashable: Matt Goldich).  These tweets, along with the rest of the 23 that are provided on the website are proof that “gatecrashing” is at play here.  Gatecrashing is a phenomenon in which users find other channels, rather than the regular gatekeeping channels, to publicize certain news or opinions.  This website, Mashable.com, provides a place that is not a traditional news outlet for consumers to share what they really think of events that occur.

As goes for this article paired with this user-generated content-style website, I think that they are mutually reinforcing each other.  In the article, it tries to be as objective as possible, but leans towards the acquisition being somewhat problematic for consumers of the individual service providers.  The website contains 23 tweets that show those consumers’ hatred of the new merger.  The article states that, “[w]henever there are mergers of two large customer-service providers…we tend to see quite a few problems…We’d be surprised if a new hybrid Comcast-Time Warner doesn’t produce a lower level of customer satisfaction for a year or two” (CNN: David VanAmberg).  This view is widely held by all of the people who posted tweets concerning the new merger- they feel it will be a terrible endeavor as customers to either one of these service providers.  This viewpoint is definitely apparent in the tweets as well as a slight bias in the news article.

A challenge that is presented by the twitter feeds of multiple people is accuracy.  The tweets presented by unhappy customers of Time Warner and Comcast only show their opinions about the merger or their predictions, not the solid facts of the case like you see in the article on CNN. Though the viewpoints of the article and tweets somewhat coincide, the article on CNN is definitely more informative to consumers.

Sources Cited:

CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/web/comcast-time-warner-consumer-impact/

Mashable: http://mashable.com/2014/02/13/comcast-time-warner-cable-tweets/

The Impact of Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism has started to take over all forms of media. By using outlets such as Twitter, blogs, Facebook, and Four Square, ordinary people now have the power to spread information quickly and nearly effortlessly. While this impacts our culture in many ways, this new trend has completely changed the way we get our information. For example, important news stories and major events are often publicized or even revealed on Twitter. A perfect example is when an ordinary person, Jim Hanrahan, first broke the news about the airplane that landed in the Hudson River in 2008. Before any professional news source reported on the incredible landing, Hanrahan tweeted, “I just watched a plane crash in the hudson.” From there, obviously the story exploded over the news but this is just one of many examples where the news was first revealed on Twitter by a “citizen journalist”

This new way to report on and receive information is changing the face of news media as we know it. I think this type of journalism would definitely be categorized as “gatewatching” as well as “gatecrashing.” It is “gatewatching” because these citizen journalist are publishing or posting everything and anything, regardless of its “newsworthiness.” It is also “gatecrashing” because it engages in the sharing of content, which is extremely conducive to Twitter. “Gatekeepers,” on the other hand, typically are more active about what they publish and post. This category is reserved for the professional journalists and therefore does not really relate to this kind of media. These forces are mutually reinforcing because they can all work off each other. For example, with the airplane-landing story, it was broken on Twitter, where ordinary people as well as news sources then “shared” it constantly and finally, professional news sources wrote the proficient, full-length stories.

A major challenge dealing with gatewatching, gatecrashing, and gatekeeping is assuring accuracy. Like previously mentioned, citizen journalists can post and share whatever information they want, true or false. This information can spread like wild fire with little hope for quelling false rumors. This is a difficult challenge to overcome considering the vast resources available to the average person. Mostly, I think people have to be aware of where they are getting their information and always double and triple check facts.



Wikipedia, Wikinews, and Gatewatching

Journalism has been and remains one of the most important societal elements of America. Journalism connects people: it spreads its influence internationally, it determines what is most “important”, what research should be continued, and what stories contain. All of these concepts were, historically, implemented through the practice of gatekeeping. As a journalist, one has the power to distribute, receive, and comment upon information, and until recently, professional journalists were largely relied upon to deliver this information. However, with the rise of citizen journalism, the practice of “gatewatching” has grown all the more prevalent. Gatewatching is essentially the opposite of gatekeeping. Rather than controlling what is considered news and distributing it as they please, gatewatchers serve as produsers. They produce news, they access other news mediums, and decide and share what material is relevant to other users.

With the level of involvement that the people have, namely through social media, gatekeeping is becoming increasingly more difficult to uphold. Though it is still entirely present on many news networks, the social media has paved the way for citizen journalists to produce and discuss information at their own will. The power of gatewatchers is immeasurable: Citizen journalism is phenomenal in the sense that it has completely transformed the way in which we receive information and the credibility we place in the media. Axel Bruns explains the dynamic between gatekeeping and gatewatching with this chart.Image

One of the most prevalent and dynamic examples of gatewatching today is Wikipedia and WikiNews. A prime example of citizen journalism, Wikipedia users have access to a collaborative platform. Unlike sites like facebook and Twitter, the information does not necessary flow in a forum or entirely based upon opinion. Wikipedia is not, however, a gatewatching medium either. It is a medium that is accessible and collaborative. It gives citizens power over what is distributed, but also maintains a generally “neutral” policy. Forums are also present on Wikipedia, further allowing grounds for media to be covered, that wasn’t necessarily acknowledged by the press.

Wikinews, a citizen-journalism platform, is an element of Wikipedia. Though they work from a similar journalistic perspective, the articles are written more as a news article than an encyclopedia excerpt. Wikinews is free and composed of the insights and information of many people. Much information is gained from mainstream media, but through constant reinterpretation and public contribution, the articles synthesize relatively neutral information gathered from both citizen and professional journalists. Sites like Wikinews provide a platform where many sources of information are collectively available, free of any gatekeeping practices or bias. Though some argue that Wikipedia and Wikinews are not reputable news sources due to their lack of professional editing, the collaborative efforts of the people and the press usually come together well. With the amount of constant editing that goes into these articles, they are usually kept up-to-date, and accurate due to a variety of perspectives. Despite some doubt, Wikipedia still remains one of the most used news sources in our society.

Wikipedia and Wikinews both conflict with and reinforce gatekeeping vs. gatewatching practices. To a point, Wikipedia reinforces gatekeeping. Articles contain mainstream news information, and though it is often edited, the information isn’t necessarily based upon opinion. At the same time, bridging the gap between what is revealed by mainstream media and the stories in their entirety threaten the practice of gatekeeping. Wikipedia is widespread enough that most angles of a situation are covered, whereas mainstream mediums gain much power from controlling specific aspects. Wikipedia is free and provides the whole story, and professional journalists gain power from controlling certain aspects of the story. The widespread knowledge distributed on Wikipedia as well as its widely regarded reliability threaten journalists.

Wikipedia has been both widely and publicly criticized. Being objective as it is, Wikipedia actually has an encyclopedia article entitled Criticism of Wikipedia comprising widespread criticisms for the site. Many people cite concerns about how anyone can edit articles and reliability of sources. Other users are bothered by the rules, active editors, and administrative power that go into the articles to ensure their legitimacy. From a journalistic perspective, Librarian Philip Bradley told The Guardian, “The main problem is the lack of authority. With printed publications, the publishers have to ensure that their data is reliable, as their livelihood depends on it. But with something like this, all that goes out the window.” The debate style of Wikipedia has also been widely criticized and studied, due to concern of debate degenerating into “counterproductive squabbling”.

Wikipedia is a hugely important and hugely criticized example of gatewatching. Its collaborative power is massive, but also questioned by many. Many people, professors, and news professionals oppose Wikipedia, while many citizens are reliant on it. It has quite a lot of positives and drawbacks, but is exemplary of how influential citizen journalism has become.






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