Citizen journalism has become an increasingly popular source of information in society today. Many events that have taken place in the world have been covered by regular people, with regular phone cameras, and simple intentions of getting the word out. On January 15, 2009, Jim Hanrahan or “Manolantern” published a tweet that would light a news wildfire. The tweet read, “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson riv in manhattan” (1). And just like that, Hanrahan became a citizen journalist who documented a monumental moment in history and spread this vital information for the world to see.
Citizen journalism has been enabled by the development and growth of online social networks, which allow people to communicate across divides of communities, countries and often authoritarian government news policies (2). Anyone who chooses to send out a message can reach thousands, even millions of people. Social networks have allowed citizen journalism to gain a following and credibility, as regular citizens are becoming some of the first live reporters on a scene through a simple tweet, youtube video, or Facebook Live stream.
Citizen journalists have been instrumental in covering many events in recent history. One grim situation where citizen journalists have been essential is the conflict in Syria. Citizen journalists are risking their lives to share what is happening in Aleppo, and around 70 of these people have been killed in the process of reporting to date (3). Since the government has prevented international media from accessing the events happening in Syria, citizens have taken the initiative to document the events themselves. Without their visual documentation and informative reports, the world would not know what is going on.
Because there are so many dangers in reporting from the ground in Syria, the foreign press sends fewer reporters to capture the events. As a result, professional news sources have worked to collaborate with citizen journalists and assist them in reaching as many people across the world as possible (4). Citizen journalists can send videos, images and reports to those professional news sources. Below is a video which captures the life of one citizen journalist working to record events in Syria.
The rise of citizen journalism is often questioned due to its contrast with traditional journalism. However, its popularity has allowed more and more people to make a difference and be heard simply by using a smartphone or 140-character tweet. Professional news corporations are collaborating with and working off of information provided by citizens more and more (2). As Melissa Wall writes in her research article on citizen journalism, “the act of ordinary people creating media content that includes information (“’news”) has become a commonly accepted practice around the world, viewed by millions as alternative, authentic news or even simply as an everyday practice” (2). Citizen journalism has given power and strength to the voices that need it most.