New social media tools empower citizen journalism

Washington (AFP) – It may be inside a demonstration rally, or in front of a fatal shooting. Social and Smartphones, video media are empowering citizens like never before to tell their narratives.

This became clear with the live video before this month from Diamond Reynolds when she streamed it live on Facebook and caught the wake of the shooting by a police officer of her boyfriend Philando Castile in Minnesota.

The live feed that is unprecedented was only the latest in a string of events emphasizing the power of citizen journalists to bring to light occasions and perspectives that would not be part of mainstream media.

Citizen journalism has been around for centuries, but each technical progress has made it simpler to reach more individuals, said Valerie Belair-Gagnon, who is an incoming professor of journalism at the University of Minnesota and heads the Yale University Information Society Project.

Notable examples from the past contain the 1963 Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination and the 1991 beating by Los Angeles cops of Rodney King and the occasions of the Arab Spring.

More lately, immediate and intimate views were offered by citizen videos from Thursday’s truck strike in the 2015 rampage in Paris and the southern French city of Nice, along with tons of citizen confrontations with authorities in America.

“In each scenario, a brand new technology prompted us to be mindful that citizens can give journalism in particular manners,” Belair Gagnon said.

“In the shift we’re seeing since 2004, citizen media is growing totally incorporated to journalism.”

Belair Gagnon said the rise of citizen journalism is always positive for the mainstream media.

“For me, it’s a favorable narrative because journalists aren’t the only gatekeepers,” she told AFP.

“The fact the people or citizens can collect info and distribute it to the people provides a chance for more affluent storytelling.”

Democratizing media

Jeff Achen, executive editor of the Minnesota non-profit group The UpTake, which trains citizen journalists, said the latest events demonstrate a “democratization” of the news media.

“Media can’t be everywhere, but there’s something with a citizen telling their own story from their own viewpoint which can be quite precious.”

Achen, print report and a former television, said citizen journalism won’t always replace traditional media but may augment it.

“With the legacy media, some of the news can feel fabricated and controlled. It can feel corporate sponsored,” he said.

Citizens can improve journalism’s conventional job of holding strong institutions like law enforcement responsible.

Platforms like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live, which enable anyone to broadcast an event, can create “delight” in this attempt, said Achen.

“I believe this will become more common,” he added.

“Everyone will allow it to be regular. They’re going to take out their cell phones whenever a police officer pulls over and does something” to bear witness to the facts, Achen said.

Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said the ability for citizens to reach the masses can help drive societal change.

“Strong as these videos are for marshalling activists, they may be more strong in bringing new participants into the racial justice movement,” he said in a site post.

Change quickening

Dan Gillmor, an Arizona State University professor and writer of a novel on citizen journalism, said Reynolds “altered our perception of media” with the “shocking and heartbreaking real time internet video of the last moments of Philando Castile’s life.”

Gillmor said the Reynolds video wasn’t always something new but revealed “the pace of change is quickening” in citizen news generation. “Her video was a three-faceted action: seeing, activism and journalism,” Gillmor said in a site post.

“Even though few people viewed it in real time, she was saving it to the data cloud in real time, creating and — one hopes — maintaining a record of what might or might not be judged eventually to have been a crime by a police officer. What Reynolds did was courageous, and significant for all types of reasons.”

Gillmor said Reynolds “instructed the rest of us something crucial: We all have an obligation to observe and record some things even if we’re not directly part of what’s occurring.”

These occasions raise questions about platforms like Facebook react to their function as conduits for citizen journalism.

Facebook’s part came into question before restoring it when it took down Reynolds video.

Gillmor and others contend the occasion underscores that Facebook is part of the news business, despite its claim to be an impartial stage.

“Facebook hasn’t given a credible explanation for its first removal of Reynolds’ video,” Gillmor said.

“The purpose is that the video stays observable because Facebook enables it to be visible.”

Gillmor included that it’s “extremely dangerous that an extremely strong business can determine what free speech will be. I don’t need several folks’s whims in Menlo Park overruling the First Amendment and other free speech ‘guarantees.’”