Citizen Journalism: Proceed with evaluation

Did you hear that Steve Jobs had a heart-attack?

Of course you didn’t; because it wasn’t true. But last year, a fake or misinformed report on the ill health of the CEO of Apple prompted a momentary plunge of it’s stock before official sources rectified the false alarm. The market regained itself after the clear up, but it showed how much people were taking information on the net for granted.

The misleading report was posted on CNN’s iReport, where anyone is allowed to post “Unedited. Unfiltered. News”. The website embraces a growing online phenomenon called “citizen journalism” which has been defined by Bowman and Wills (2003 cited in Flew 2008, 144) as “the act of a citizen, or a group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and infroamtion”. As I mentioned in my last blog post on becoming a produser, with the rise of new media technologies, more and more people are able to state their voice to the public. But the downside of letting everyone and anyone have a say is, as the fake Steve Jobs heart-attack news showed, how do we know if we can trust what they say?

Before we believe anything we read on the internet, there are few evaluations we can do to determine the reliability of the information, and the QUT Library site gives a pretty comprehensive list of things to consider, but here are some major points:

  1. Research what others have said about the same topic
  2. Regard the credibility of the person who posted the information
  3. Check their references (and do they have any in the first place?)

But trying to do this alone means, at least for me, it’s going to take more time and effort. Sure it’s important to get your facts right, but it is easier if the journo’s did all the research, pursued interviews, and went to the scene of crime, while I just have to sit on my couch and listen to their 30 second run-down of their essential findings… However as the limitations of professional journalists become clearer, more people are turning to citizen journalism for the ‘whole truth’. But ‘finding the truth’ isn’t necessarily up to an individual to discover in citizen journalism; it is a continual process by the community.

Bruns (2007) has suggested that artifacts from produsage processes are never completed because it continues to be edited, updated and refined by other participants. This ‘communal evaluation’ allows people to identify and pick out infortmation that is unreliable  because “those contributions deemed useful and and relevant will be further improved upon, while those leading to dead ends of development…will remain un-used” (Bruns 2007, p.25).  In the case of the eariler example, once other sources revealed the error of the post, the administrators of CNN’s iReport quickly pulled it off the web. Many of the online news sites, like CNN’s iReport,  only allows select people to edit content, while there are more open sites that allow more blatant ‘collaborative editing ‘ (Flew 2008 145) such as wikinews.

More common ways in which ‘communal evaluation’ of news takes place , however, is by participant ratings (sometimes externally -e.g. Digg) and comments, where the more popular news posts can be regarded as the more important or relevant news to the community (Bruns 2007, 76). On the other hand,  therefore, if someone posts news that is dishonest or misinformed, others will be able to discredit their information by refering to other sources, or people will simply ignore it, and the reputation of the citizen reporter as being a trsutworthy source will definitely disintegrate.  Of course, this also happens to untruthful news reporting by traditional journalists; and in fact. one of the major roles of citizen journalism is said to be ‘Gate watching’ where news that comes through the conventional ‘Gate keeper’ news outlets are monitored by citizens to discern what news is most relevant to the community (Bruns 2007, 74).

So in a nutshell,  in traditional journalims it is the responsibility of the journalists to present to us the unbiased objective ‘truth’, while in citizen journalism the responsibility of ascertaining the ‘truth’ falls to us, the citizens.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.



Bruns, A. 2008. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production To Produsage. New York: Peter Lang

Flew, T. 2008. New Media: an introduction. 3rd Ed. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Schonfield, E. 2008. Citizen “Journalists” Hits Apple Stock With False (Steve Jobs) Heart Attack Rumour. Accessed 3 May 2009.

QUT Library. Evaluating information. Accessed 4 May 2009.

Other Blogs on Citizen Journalism


3 responses to “Citizen Journalism: Proceed with evaluation

  1. katelouise25

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading you latest blog about citizen journalism. I quite like how you introduce your blog with a short story, it really captures the audience and makes me want to continue reading and learn more from you. The outline of your blog I believe was very effective, making it easy to follow and understand the concept. You have a very clear argument and referencing Axel Bruns strengthens your blog and its credibility. I also really liked how you used QUT as an example of determining on the internet which sites are reliable sources of information, opposed to ones that are not. My only suggestion I have is to maybe considering a few more comparisons between citizen and real journalism, for example the restraints journalists have from their bosses and how certain reporting companies have a particular style in the way they produce and want the audience to perceive the story, whereas citizen’s are able to write whatever they like. Although, as you said hopefully the audience is able to differentiate between real and fake news stories. The ending sentence works effectively as it reiterates to your audience you are a citizen journalist yourself.

  2. Hey there!

    I absolutely love the idea behind this installment! The approach you took addressing this topic was really creative and well thought out. I think it’s great that you analyse citizen journalism in terms of the credibility of content as in my opinion this is a very important grey area. As the establishment of citizen journalism is only very recent, we will face many nitty-gritty issues such as this as the online journalism concept evolves. Do people really trust the Internet? Well that’s an interesting question. The old addage ‘don’t believe everything you read’ springs to mind and this is a concept that is repeatedly re-inforced especially in the context of the online rhelm. Whether or not people actually do believe all that citizen journalists produce is one thing but I’m pushed to think about the origins of citizen journalism and peoples motivations for writing and reading these articles. Is it more for factual information, breaking news, gossip or even just entertainment? I guess it depends on the article. Anyway, a really great article! Loved reading it. Look forward to next weeks.

  3. Pingback: Mr and Mrs J. Citizen « aliciapalimaka’s blog

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