Citizen Journalism: A Personal Example

27 Oct

In class last week, we discussed citizen journalism (click to read more about a formal definition and a bit about Dan Gillmor, also discussed in class). Basically, citizen journalism is a phenomenon in which people without professional experience in the field of journalism use modern technology to contribute reporting about ongoing newsworthy events. There has been a rapid rise in user generated content in the past years, as almost everyone is equipped with a smartphone, ready to document anything out of the ordinary. Examples of citizen journalism can occur during natural disasters or violent protests: people positioned in the middle of say, a hurricane or a back-and-forth argument with city police are already on hand to record and report exactly what they see, oftentimes much faster than professionals can be dispatched to the same location. Additionally, in instances of ongoing violence, there can be further issues preventing professional journalists from recording and reporting as well as citizens, such as the threat of danger and limitations from their networks.

An example of my practicing citizen journalism comes to mind when I think of the term. The year was 2006, and I had left school early to receive a cortisone injection in my wrist on the Upper East Side of New York City. As I was waiting for my name to be called into the doctor’s office, there was a loud noise that came from above. I rushed to the window to see a few people on the sidewalk pointing to a mark above where I was standing inside the building. Almost instantly, a voice came on the building’s loudspeaker and instructed everyone to exit the building from a certain entrance and not to panic. As I was only on the 4th floor of the building, the walk was rather short downstairs, even though it was packed with people from floors above. People were visibly afraid, with the memory of 9/11 only five years old, but evacuated quickly and in an organized fashion. I took a couple of pictures with my BlackBerry. As soon as I got outside, I looked up to witness an area of around two stories completely ablaze and engulfed in smoke in the connecting building. Again, I took a number of photographs with my camera phone. Through conversations ongoing on the street, I quickly established that a small passenger plane had hit the building, and could even see some of its remnants on the sidewalk below. My mother and I phoned my father and sent him the pictures I had taken via text message. He had not heard of the crash yet, and immediately turned on the television. Only around five minutes later did various news channels begin to pick up on the story, some reporting ‘some kind of explosion’ in a New York apartment building on the East River.  

While the photos I took were never shown on CNN (I did send them in…), many of the images first shown on television were taken by people who simply happened to be in the vicinity of the accident, much like myself. Networks had clear images of exactly what was going on even before they were aware of the specifics of the story (it turned out that the two-person plane that crashed into the building was being piloted by New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle).

Citizen journalism is a sensational and growing form of journalism that is aided by the rapid and constant changes in technology today. While the debate of whether it will ever fully replace professional journalism is currently open to debate, there is no doubt that it currently serves as a tremendous complement.



One Response to “Citizen Journalism: A Personal Example”

  1. Lauren October 27, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Can you imagine, I was in the same building as you when that accident happened!
    Unlike you however, it took me a while to understand the gravity of the situation and did not rush to evacuate. When I realized that it was serious, I hurried out without trying to know more about what was happening. You reacted much more cooly and you were able to provide news to people who were probably quite worried, remembering 9/11!

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