Citizen journalists are regular people who take it upon themselves to record video or take pictures of a newsworthy story and broadcast them through social media. It was citizen journalists that brought important stories like the Ferguson protests and Iran Green Movement to the mainstream media’s attention.
However, citizen-produced content often results in viral videos or images that rapidly spread misinformation when they fail to provide context for the story or investigate the issue at stake. For example, photoshopped images of Hurricane Sandy over New York City were shared all over social media, adding to the chaos and confusion people were already experiencing. While citizen journalism is necessary for keeping the mainstream media accountable (to an extent) and to bring new stories to light, it’s more important than ever for professional journalism to make its voice heard on social media.
Professional journalists are professional because they are trained in their work and follow a certain set of ethical guidelines, which citizen journalists don’t. Despite fact-checking or verification sites like Storyful that improve the credibility of citizen-produced content, only professional journalists dive into a story and give it the context and depth that it’s otherwise lacking. A citizen’s content can be supplementary to a professional journalist’s investigation, but it is not sufficient for a complete story. Professional journalists are responsible for looking at every angle and source as their stories should be well-rounded and unbiased.
If a professional journalist is adhering to journalistic ethics, then they should be presenting facts in an unbiased light. Their content isn’t there to persuade like an op-ed, but is meant to inform. This means that they have to verify their sources, fact-check, and refuse stories where they might have a conflict of interest.
Plus, their content shouldn’t be created for the click value or driven by a need for viewers. They should be investigating stories and sources in order to uncover the truth. A citizen-shot video may get a ton of attention online, but it’s the professional journalist’s story behind it that people need to see to be informed. Though, it’s really up to publishers to work harder to promote professional journalism to beat out the noise of viral video, clickbait, and unchecked citizen journalism.
Professional journalism also means professional quality. Citizen-produced content is usually filmed on a phone by someone untrained in video production. This is fine for breaking news, but quality video is important to keeping a viewer’s attention and maintaining a news organization’s professional reputation and trustworthiness.
A number of publishers rely on citizen journalism when news breaks and they need video immediately, or they have to wait for their news crew to arrive at the scene, both of which have their drawbacks. However, with Storyhunter, it’s easy to get a professional journalist on the ground faster than ever, wherever a story is breaking, so that news credibility, coverage, and quality don’t have to suffer and viewers are better informed.