Journalism and the ethics of journalism have changed dramatically over the last two decades. Social media apps have given everyone with a phone in their hands the potential to produce news content. Snowden writes that before mobile technology and outlets like Twitter, “journalist were granted special privileges” such as exclusive information and the resources, for the ability to break news (Snowden, 122). Today most of the “breaking news” and footage from news events is not produced by journalist, but by citizens who by chance can record news in real time and pump it out to the world (Snowden, p. 120). In this essay I cover how “Citizen Journalism” through the use of Twitter is changing the world of journalism, while focusing on Collette Snowden and Gerard Goggin’s studies.
From the plane crash of US Airways flight 1549 in New York, to the passing of Michael Jackson, to the earthquake in China that took the lives of over 68,000 people, Twitter has been used to break stories all over the world well before mainstream news outlets get their hands on the story. Citizen journalism allows the user to report on content instantly and inexpensively. Snowden writes that before mobile technology and outlets like Twitter, “journalist were granted special privileges” such as exclusive information and the resources for the ability to break news (Snowden, 122). Twitter allows for citizens to authenticate information two-fold after the initial tweet by giving them the ability to take a “Twitpic” or upload a vine. Twitter has given society the ability to exercise agency in the world of news content, while also revolutionizing how we get our information.
Goggin points out that the advent of the camera phone has opened up a do-it-yourself culture of personalization and identity (Goggin, 145). He also says that the most prominent use of the camera phone was taking pictures of things that interested the users, while travel photos were near the bottom of the list; “Camera phones capture the more fleeting or unexpected moments of surprise”(pg. 145). Snowden confirms Goggin’s article of phone use by explaining that people who produce news content online aren’t deliberately trying to be citizen journalists. She says that public do not make a “conscious decision” when they report events, and their motives are uncalculated and inadvertent (Snowden, p 123). In other words most folks don’t travel around with the intention to report news, they merely take pictures or videos of things that interest them. The fact that it may become news later on is inconsequential and not by design.
Twitter along with other social media apps have democratized journalism by allowing citizens to widely circulate information and bypass traditional journalist and governments. I have personally become disenfranchised with 24-hour news media and their knack for overblowing stories and the clear setups of right/left extremist debates. With the advent of Twitter we can get news without the agenda and have it backed up by multiple accounts of any situation. Goggin writes that those not interested in established media “are now able to contribute to alternative news forms,” but there can also be push back by the establishment (Goggin, p. 147-148). In Snowden’s article she mentions that because of the sheer amount of information and news being reported online it has made it much harder for governments to censor the “flow of information.” She cites actions taken by the Chinese government after rioting broke out in Xinjiang and the shut down of their telecommunication system (pg.124). In this instance the Chinese government shut down Twitter but also invited foreign journalist to tour the scene. New media like Twitter pose a threat to any government that tries to impose censorship of news, because once the information hits the web it cannot be bartered with or gag ordered like traditional reporters. Which begs the question, why do we inherently trust mainstream news outlets?
In 1998, 25-year-old Stephen Glass, then journalist for The New Republic, was making over $100,000 a year and getting published in magazines like Rolling Stone and Harpers (Leung, 2007). His stories were wild and imaginative but with one major flaw: they were all fake. A few years later New York Times journalist Jayson Blair was caught for plagiarism and fabrication of his articles. I believe it would be naive to think that these are isolated instances of a couple rotten apples in the field of reporting, and I think we have seen an influx of misinformation by major news corporations due to the need to fill airtime and the craving to be the fastest in reporting news because of the competition from social media. The Boston Marathon bombing was a great example of news stations and papers running the gun on faulty intel from nameless sources. It has been well documented of CNN’s blunders during their coverage of the Boston bombing and even the New York Post, who posted a photo on the front cover of their paper of two innocent men that they believed to be the bombers.
Snowden points to journalists propensity to glorify exclusivity of information as the cornerstone of success in the industry, “material that no other news outlet or journalist has been able to obtain, was and continues to be highly valued by journalists and an attribute that contributes to their professional identity”(pg.122). Twitter has started to become the source of where these news outlets get their information, and I believe one of the reasons is due to the ability to aggregate the amount of tweets on a story to confirm a single report instead of relying on unbacked sources, as was done in the “Vancouver Kiss” debate (Snowden, pg. 130).
Snowden and Goggin both agree that the 2005 bombings in London are a crucial moment in amateur mobile journalism. During the bombing, it was shown that the first videos and photos were produced by survivors, through social media, before paid reporters could get anywhere near the scene (Goggin, pg. 147; Snowden, pg. 126). Snowden says that participatory media content could no longer be looked at as inauthentic in comparison to traditional journalism and that user-generated content had grown up to become a powerful force in media delivery. New media like Twitter has turned the news industry on its head by beating them to the punch on important breaking news. This has had an adverse effect on the industry since they’ve become more reactionary and speculative than ever before in what Snowden calls “anticipatory news”(pg.132). With the proliferation of camera phones becoming an essential item to grab before leaving the house, it seems that user-generated breaking news will become a staple in how receive our news now and in the future (Goggin, pg.146).
Goggin, G. (2006). On Mobile Photography: Camera Phones, Moblogging, and New Visual Cultures..Cell phone culture: mobile technology in everyday life (pp. 143-161). London: Routledge.
Leung, R. (2003, May 7). Stephen Glass: I Lied For Esteem. CBSNews. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/stephen-glass-i-lied-for-esteem-07-05-2003/
CAUGHT ON CAMERA: Fertilizer Plant Explosion Near Waco, Texas. (2013, April 17). Youtube. Retrieved April 15, 2014, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROrpKx3aIjA
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New York Post. (2013, April 18). [Print Photo] Retrieved from http://latinotimes.com/world/87754-ny-post-puts-innocent-men-on-cover-draws-more-criticism.html