The Best and Worst of Citizen Journalism

On July 20, 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, tragedy struck. James Holmes entered a movie theater during the playing of “The Dark Night Rises” and began opening fire. Twelve people died and many more were injured. While news of this quickly took the country by storm, it is citizen journalists that were truly able to share the harrowing details. Citizen journalism is the sharing of stories online by people who aren’t journalists. Instead, they are knowledgable citizens wanting to share their thoughts on a topic or event.

Adam Wick and his wife happened to be in the back of theater 9 that night and were lucky enough to survive. After the event, he went online to share with the world the events that took place that night.


He discusses the night, describing vividly the panic and confusion that took place that could only be understood by being there. This is something that surpasses what a journalist can do. Citizen journalism is changing the way that information is shared. Writing in the first person allows the story to be one that people can connect with more.

Another positive example of citizen photojournalism was found in an article describing the events that took place during the protests in Cairo, Egypt. These protests were against the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy’s decision to extend his powers. To keep these protests under control, police took  extreme measures. Through these harrowing images that could only be captured being there, this story is able to be accurately depicted.

Sonya Rehman, a Columbia graduate with a degree in journalism, shares with us many other positives of citizen journalism.

While citizen journalism has many positive aspects, there are also many drawbacks. Citizen journalists do not have the knowledge or degree in order to accurately relay information to people. It is hard to determine if the information is trustworthy because these people lack the experience, skills and training needed to be credible journalists.  Additionally, citizen journalism can often be bias. Professional journalists are trained to look at all sides of a topic, which is something that citizen journalists lack. With citizen journalism, copyright laws are often broken. Information or images of people could potentially be released without their permission, causing violation of personal privacy.

One example of citizen journalism gone wrong happened in October  2008. A citizen journalist posted online that Steve Jobs, the founder and CEO of Apple, had a heart attack and was rushed to the emergency room. According to CNN, this story caused Apple’s stocks to plummet drastically  Apple’s stock fell 10% in 10 minutes they reported.

However, this entire story was completely false. User generated content often is not regulated and can result in very drastic consequences to both other journalists and readers of the news.  As someone who relies on the news for my information on current events, it is concerning to me that often times this content is false. Being able to trust what you are reading is what separates storytelling from reporting facts and reliable news. While citizen journalism is valuable in certain instances, it is important for a reader to understand the difference between journalism and citizen journalism.


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