"It is easier to build a strong child than to repair a broken man." - Frederick Douglass

Journalism: Citizen vs Professional

JournalismJournalism is the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, and news websites or preparing news for live and pre-recorded broadcasts. According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s book titled, “The Elements of Journalism,” the primary purpose of journalism is to provide information to citizens to help make them free and self-governing. There are two types of journalism, citizen and professional. Although both fall under the category journalism, there are many key differences between the two.

Citizen journalism is composed by members of the public who take information into their own hands to publish or distribute it themselves. A lot of their information comes from the media, i.e., Twitter and Facebook, etc.. This makes it quick and easy for citizens journalist to get what they need to put a story together. Citizens are not restricted by where they can go or what pictures they can take.

Because the use of social media is so widespread, it is much easier for a citizen’s piece to go viral than it is for a traditional news story. However, there are some problems related to citizen journalism.

Citizen journalism is often found unreliable for a number of reasons. For one, citizens tend to spread incorrect and misleading information primarily because they lack the knowledge to do proper fact checking. For example, there was a fake Apple press release stating that an iPhone could be fully charged in one minute by microwaving the phone. The information turned out to be untrue, and many people destroyed their phones by following faulty advice. Another reason is that untrained, unaccountable, and often times, unethical writers tend to put their personal opinions into their written work. In order for a news article to be considered accurate, it must be free of any biases, opinions, personal beliefs, or emotions from the writer.

There are studies showing that most citizen journalists are writing to get their opinions heard. This is the exact opposite of how news should be written and reported. In addition to this, some citizen journalists choose to remain anonymous. They believe that this will allow them to voice their views without fear of criticism. However, this is potentially dangerous.

If an author’s identity is unknown to the audience, it is impossible to determine the articles trustworthiness. This can be hazardous because a fake news story can cause an audience to draw conclusions that are out of step with both reality and ethical responsibility. For the citizen journalist, that small first step could lead to a chain of related events culminating in transforming hyperbole into fabricated facts.

A professional journalist’s approach is the exact opposite. They are taught to put their emotions and personal beliefs aside when they write. The result allows the reader to form their own opinions.

Professionals are not allowed to write anonymously. This practice makes them accountable to their audience, for better or worse. Professional journalists are better trained in providing accurate information. Yet, there is one major downfall — timing.

Professional journalists’ stories have to go to an editor before their work is published. Editors make sure the information is correct.

Citizen journalists arguably enjoy a lot more freedom than their professional counterparts. They are not only allowed to freely say what they feel, but they are also able to get their unfiltered message out to the public quickly.

On the one hand, perhaps it is best to leave the big stories that can affect or alter how people behave to professional journalists. On the other hand, training citizen journalists to become effective stewards of the facts might not only prove to be a better option, it is, to be sure, a more inclusive approach to spreading real news.

By Trinity Oglesby
Edited by D. Chandler, C. Milne and J. Smith


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Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Paul Saad’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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