Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Blurred Lines of Professional Journalism and Citizen Journalism

By Mira Kuhar

photo via Chicago Now

It’s no lie that the incidents in Ferguson circling the death of Michael Brown last year were a big event in the history of journalism and news reporting. Because of the violent and serious nature of these events, the lines between protesters, bystanders and professional journalists became inevitably blurred. Pictures and video were taken, social media posts were sent and arrests were made. It was hard for the police to tell who was who in this situation – but what does that mean for the future of journalism?

The riots and protests in Ferguson are a prime example of how technology has evolved to where anyone can become a journalist or reporter. This idea, known as “citizen journalism,” was a huge part of why the Ferguson events blew up on social media, and why these lines are blurring. Sarah Jackson, an assistant professor communication studies at Northeastern, weighs in on this topic in a post on the University’s website. She explains that citizen journalists are pushing mainstream journalists to cover the events that they’re “reporting” on, many of them dealing with social issues that raise a lot of discussion. This is why the events of Ferguson blew up on social media. It also explains why many of the journalists went beyond their duties, tried get into the heart of the action and ended up in handcuffs.

Arresting these journalists was part of a crackdown on the press during this event – but really, who could be considered as “the press?” If bystanders and average citizens are able to post and update the world with what’s happening at an event such as this one, how do you justify arresting professional journalists? Shouldn’t they be put in the same sphere as those with cameras on their smartphones? With that logic, there should have been many more citizen arrests.

It can be argued that reporters and journalists work for accredited companies, so with their presence comes a greater liability. However, it is becoming increasingly popular for journalists to reference citizen social media posts in their work, and even discovering newsworthy information through viral posts. According to Journalist’s Resource and a study conducted by Jayeon Lee in Lehigh University’s Department of Journalism and Communication, for credibility reasons, journalists need to watch what they promote and where they get their facts. Lee states, “News organizations should be aware that journalists’ social media activity can affect not only the professional reputation of the journalists but also that of their news products.” Working for these accredited companies increased the liability of covering something that may be incorrect or controversial.

The events of Ferguson have created an outcome that will continue to be studied and used to guide the actions in future events of the same nature. There is much uncertainty of what could potentially happen in these situations because of social media and citizen journalism. However, mainstream journalists and news outlets can look at what happened here and decide what their course of action would be should this happen again.

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