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Citizen Journalism: What Is It and 3 Ways to Get Started

by | May 17, 2023

Citizen journalism, also referred to as collaborative media or grassroots journalism, is a form of journalism where citizens are involved in the collection, reporting, analyzation (and so on) of news.

With so many people accessing information from smartphones, on social media, or the Internet, people have more ways than ever to instantly share their local stories and experience.

Technology has changed the landscape when it comes to journalism and how people stay on top of their local news.

What is Citizen Journalism?

Citizen journalism is a type of journalism where the general public is involved in telling the news.

Journalists cannot be everywhere at once, so having local people report on stories and breaking news can make a huge difference.

Citizen journalism has always been a channel of journalism, but with smartphones and social media so easily accessible, everyone can now become a reporter.

CNN even had a great article (you can read it here) on why citizen journalism matters and helps the world know what’s going on.

Why Citizen Journalism Matters

Citizen journalism is incredibly important for a society to keep reporting accurate and in real time.

It also helps people in a community feel like they have a voice and can share their concerns. This form of journalism also includes public debates, submitting their expert opinion to local papers, or sharing their thoughts online.

It gives citizens the rights to be involved in how news is created and shared, which gives power back to people to be involved in news.

Many people feel that the big media companies should not have all the say on which stories are told and what information is included, so citizen journalism gives people the power to be deeply involved.

When citizens can be involved in their own news, it also gives them a reason to care more about what is going on around them and in their world.

There are also times where journalists and the media cannot get to a location in time and real-time reporting on the ground must be done. That is when citizen journalism becomes critical.

How to Get Into Citizen Journalism

If you are interested in the news and sharing information, you might have considered becoming a journalist at one point or another.

However, the traditional journalism path is not for everyone, which is why some people choose to get into citizen journalism. They want to share news and work in media, but they are not looking to go back to school or do internships to get their foot in the door.

You will still need to study the principles and rules around journalism to make sure you are sharing news that is factual, correct, and within the correct guidelines of news.

For the most part, you are have to accept that you are going to be fact-checking and on the ground to get information.

Decide Your Core Issues

First, you will need to take the time to think about the topics you want to cover.

Do you want to report on your local neighborhood? Get involved in a topic you are passionate about, such as sports or the environment?

For the most part, journalists pick a topic they care about deeply to keep reporting on and can stay involved with.

You might also want to become a news curator, where you share news from a certain topic, go through it all, and share the most important stories in a certain area. This is technically outside traditional “citizen journalism”, but it is something for you to keep in mind when you explore career options in this industry.

Decide How You Will Get Involved

Once you know the topics you want to stay involved with and want to care about, you should outline how you want to get involved and what works for you to be able to do so.

Keep in mind, a lot of citizens are naturally brought into journalism as they can be sources or people who share their expertise and experiences, without becoming completely involved in citizen journalism.

You can be involved in multiple ways, if that fits your schedule and your desire to be involved deeply in issues. Since you are taking matters into your own hands, you can do it in any way that fits.

Get involved

Now that you know what kind of issues you want to stay involved in and know how you want to take action, it is time to put some boots on the ground and get active.

Whether that means actually taking photos and talking to people to gather the news, reaching out and staying in touch with reporters, or being involved in groups and websites online, you will need to play an active role.

It may take a while to get the ball rolling in this new option for you, but once you get started and figure out what works for you, it will become easier.

Whether or not you choose to pursue journalism full-time, you will be involved in issues you care about and will know more about what is going on in your community, which is always a good thing.

Examples of Citizen Journalism

Here are some real-world examples of citizen journalism so you can see how it works.

Keep in mind these are famous moments that changed discourse as we know it. Not all stories will have this level of impact! However, they are prime examples of how citizens can report on the news.

Abraham Zapruder John F. Kennedy assassination footage

This is one of the more famous cases of citizen journalism, since Abraham Zapruder was one of the people to film a home movie that captured the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

While there were a lot of cameras and photographers that day, his was one of the most clear videos of it happening and it was a video that sent shockwaves around the world. He had no idea just filming that day would be such an important matter.

George Holliday footage of the Rodney King beating

George Holliday was a Los Angeles plumber who happened to film the Rodney King beating in 1991. He was simply a concerned citizen who saw what was happening, filmed it, and sent it to a local news station.

What to Do Next

Are you looking to become a professional writer? Not sure of the various career paths that are available to you?

In this writing career quiz, it will walk you through some of the various options so you can figure out which path is a good fit for you. This quiz is short but will help you navigate all the options in front of you when it comes to making a career as a freelance writer.