Citizen Journalists Will Bring The What, While Professionals Bring The Why

This article, by Pat Thornton, originally appeared 2/8/09 on The Journalism Iconoclast blog.


Citizen journalism is a gift to journalism, professional journalists and people all over the world.

It’s an army of active citizens who want to report about the world around them — for free. They can cover far more ground than professional journalists and can provide coverage of events as they happen in real time — not afterwards. 


As a reporter you can’t be everywhere, but billions of people are everywhere.


That’s the power of citizen journalism.


Citizen journalism won’t replace in-depth reporting anytime soon — if ever. You probably won’t see citizens uncovering government corruption, but citizen journalism offers the ability to cover breaking news better than professional journalists ever could. Faster, better, uncensored and in real-time.


Wherever news breaks, there are always people around, but there aren’t always journalists around. Increasingly, these people are armed with mobile devices with Internet access that can post text, photos and videos from anywhere.


When you think about the power of citizen journalism, and how increasingly news stories will break first by everyday citizens instead of by professional journalists, one has to ask how much resources should news outlets dedicate to covering breaking news? Should professional journalists be belatedly duplicating the work of citizen journalists? Citizens can handle the what, while professional journalists can handle the why.


That’s the power of professional journalism.


Camera phones, smartphones, Web apps like Twitter and other technologies are helping make citizen journalism a reality. It’s just so easy today to report on the world around us, many people are asking, why not?


Why not snap a few photos with a cell phone and send them in to Twitpic? Why not send off 140-character bursts to Twitter and other micro-blogging services? Why not make a short blog post to WordPress or TypePad via their free mobile versions? Why not record real-time video and broadcast it to the world with Qik?


And this is just the beginning. A year from now more people will have more capable mobile devices, existing services like Twitter will be more robust with more users and many new Web apps will pop up. Imagine five years from now. 10 years from now?


I’m excited, and we are just in the nascent stages of citizen journalism. Combine citizen journalism with beat blogging, and I think we have a path forward that will allow news organizations to cover a lot more ground with a lot fewer resources. Better coverage with less. I like the sound of that.


Read the rest of the article at The Journalism Iconoclast.