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.
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.