James Rainey’s “‘Citizen journalist’ broke Obama story,” a recap-style piece for the Los Angeles Times, tells the story of how Mayhill Fowler first covered Barack Obama’s campaign statements that small-town Americans turn to “guns, religion,” and nationalist sentiments when they experience economic frustration.
Fowler’s reporting is not the only instance of a citizen breaking a story with journalistically and “ethically sound” reporting, according to the LA Times article. Fowler did this without the backing of an established outlet, and she did it without the “professional journalist” title. But this one instance of citizen journalism is indicative of a larger shift in how the news media landscape functions as a whole.
Ever since as the creators of the internet sent the first message from computer to computer, the media landscape shifted very far from the institutionalized, strict-process industry that many media consumers viewed it to be. There had always been independent, non-conforming outlets and individual journalists—but the internet and the exponential speeding up of technological advancements and accessibility has given citizens an inside look into how news gets created, and has given them the tools to make their own content, unfiltered.
The pros of this shift: Media consumers now have immediate access to a greater, more diverse, selection of news content. The cons: This content doesn’t always come from “professional,” or journalism school-educated, journalists, and it has less proof of reliability. But the increased prominence of citizen journalism, and the addition of more multimedia tools and forms of storytelling, has done something else to the modern newsroom: It has broken down all barriers, and smashed all rules.
The way citizens approach news events when they perform “citizen journalism”—and, in the same vein, the way journalists started using tools like Twitter, and storytelling forms like motion graphics and interactive content—is a disorganized process with little structure or rules. And, unlike print journalism, there are no widely-used guidelines for how newsrooms should use this new media. In a way, citizens are learning at the same pace as the modern newsroom—and, at the same time, getting an inside look into the newsroom’s processes. This is one of the larger impacts, and most exciting impacts, of the journalism landscape’s trend towards 21st century coverage and journalism tools.