Citizen Journalism – by Winifred Ononikpo

citizen-journalism

Until the Nigerian political system moved from military to civilian rule, the media was highly proscribed. There was a limit to what they could say or print especially about the government in power; and at any time, media houses could be shut down and out of business.

Fast forward to present day where the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill has been passed into law, giving power to media practitioners to say what they feel about both the government and society. The passage of the FOI bill can be viewed as a step forward in development, in that the media can now fully perform their watch-dog function, acting as a check on government excesses. They are independent of external influence and can perform as freely and effectively as their Western counterparts.

The media has the internet as its newest form and the internet has given rise to a term known today as Citizen Journalism. Citizen journalism is the collection, dissemination and analysis of news information by the general public, especially by means of the internet (Oxford Dictionary). From phones, tablets, laptops and other devices, regular individuals can post information on any issue; be it lack of electricity supply, views on politics, religious tension, insurgency etc.

There are individuals who have created well-organized sites and make it their jobs to source for news on current affairs, politics, business, sports, entertainment etc and package them for broadcast via web links. These individuals are known as bloggers. In the wake of blogging, it seemed “cool” and was thriving until a lot of people rushed into it. The aim was probably to create competition but an entire mess has been made of the venture. There are so many bloggers, many of them tweeting the same feed and picking one to obtain news from has become quite difficult and almost impossible. Also, there is mindless lifting of news headlines and even more annoying are the headlines that are exaggerated just to generate traffic.

Although many may not want to be termed (mini) bloggers, actions such as tweeting and status update on Facebook fall under blogging; only on a micro scale. Users of social network platforms are more or less the real citizen journalists.

Citizen journalism in its rife gives a voice to the voiceless and promotes grass-root development. Individuals who notice a gap in an area can bring the attention of constituted authority to it just by mentioning them (so long as they have accounts on the chosen medium) or even cause a trend using hash tags. Also, citizen journalism helps spread news faster. By tweeting, retweeting and reposting, people get in the know about what is currently happening. Though the traditional means of communication are more reliable, they do not have to be strictly the only news sources.

Since citizen journalists are ordinary individuals like you and I, the ethics and principles of journalism are not completely upheld. This is because people are not grounded in the rudiments of journalism. There is the issue of trusting news sources and question of ingenuity. For example, a girl I follow on Twitter once tweeted about an orgy involving a married woman. Bloggers didn’t bother to get the story right; they repackaged it and published it as her having an orgy, and even went as far as including her profile picture in it. The incident generated a lot of buzz and the public embarrassment forced her off Twitter for months. Incidents like this challenge if journalism should be left to just professionals? There is also the issue of unreferenced news sources and people using their accounts to spread hate and spiteful comments against other individuals and groups.

In as much as citizen journalism has proven to be quite helpful, individuals should know where to draw the line. People should come to the realization of how citizen journalism can be maximized to benefit society. Lets turn on our brain filters so Freedom of Information isn’t reverted, taking us back in time to proscription. Spreading hate, insulting instead of helping/encouraging the government in power, and other of such demeaning acts should be avoided as much as possible. Abuse they say is inevitable when purpose is not known.

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