Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
The identity of ‘Citizen Journalism’ rely on a few factors in the emerging media landscape. First, the process of collection, processing and publication of news utilising online tools by common people named as citizen journalism. Second, apart from professional journalists, when a few individuals who keep track of newsworthy developments in the society they live in, regularly publish news stories and opinion posts in social media, blogs and news websites, the task belongs to the category of citizen journalism.
Third, the practice of citizen journalism in digital platforms, specially in social media resulted in unprecedented popularity worldwide. The development attracted traditional media outlets to encourage readers of newspapers and viewers of television channels for collection of news for their columns or programmes in the post-Covid 19 pandemic environment. Print publications adopted to quote texts from blogs and websites occasionally. Fourth, the publication of hyper-local-news and video clips gathered by users in social media is often integrated into news stories produced by newspapers and television channels. Thus products of citizen journalism help to enhance the quality of reportage in legacy media platforms. Fifth, for various reasons the mainstream media, resorted to heavily depend on press-release-based journalism in the post-Covid 19 pandemic scenarios. It resulted out in serious problems like news avoidance among readers and viewers. In the international level promotion of citizen journalism by print newspapers and news websites is the newest experiment for readers’ engagement to win back faith in journalism.
Mass media commentators attribute the initiative taken by a South Korean website ‘OhMyNews’ launched in 2000 to the origin of citizen journalism in modern terms. The people behind the website at first tried to publish a print newspaper, but the lack of funding compelled them to settle down for a website. In absence of paid journalists, the website encouraged common people to submit news about their communities which achieved instant success. The trend expanded to different countries. On one hand, with the advancement of technology common people started posting video clips of manmade and natural disasters in social media platforms utilising their camera-attached smartphones which could be shared among people. Interesting and newsworthy texts and visuals used to go viral within no time. The quality of the content description did not matter as the emphasis is laid upon the incident and immediacy of circulation of the reportage. By the time professional journalists and television crew reach the spot of occurrence, the story turn to be have reached the pages of history in public memories. As a result, traditional journalism have to continue itself for analysis and further investigation only in such cases.
On the other hand, amidst of political turmoil incidents of governments in different nations restricting media platforms during the first two decades of the 21st Century are well documented. Internet shutdown is a major issue worldwide for repression in the circulation of information. However, the local media outlets operated by citizen journalists continue to reach their audience using alternative technologies in conflict zones. War and civil war conditions continue for a long duration and in absence of mainstream media citizen journalism serves as the only source of news in the troubled geographies.
The Spread of digital media during the pre-Covid 19 era resulted in disruptions in print newspaper industry due to the loss of advertisement and circulation revenue. The impact was visible in many regions barring Asian markets. But in the post-Covid 19 ‘New Normal’ mainstream media platforms confronted problems such as loss of public faith, news avoidance and reduced profitability for print newspapers all over the world. The ecosystem compelled many to experiment with evolving innovative editorial and business models to make news products attractive for readers, win back trustworthiness and confront the competition of digital platforms. The practice of citizen journalism to cover hyper-local-news is considered as one of the tools.
Print newspapers or news websites employ different modalities to include citizen journalism in their fabric. Some print newspapers devote few editions in a cycle or certain pages in an edition for coverage of reports by citizen journalists. Generally, news pitches, news stories, photographs and video clips submitted by citizen journalists are verified and edited before publication. To keep up the flow of hyper-local-news by interested readers and viewers, structured efforts are being undertaken to identify and establish contact channels alive with the citizen journalists.
Indian language journalism heavily relied upon people in the rural areas who are employed in professions other than journalism to report news for print publications. Newspapers use to accredit a person in a select gram panchayat or block to report news for their outfits. But in an environment enriched with citizen journalism every person in the community enjoys the opportunity to report the news with no compulsion to attend the task regularly. It promotes the democratization of the media platforms.
The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression to every citizen and the professional journalists are not entitled to any additional privilege. Citizen journalism empowers people to use mainstream news platforms to publish their concerns, comments and perspectives. The opportunity enables to raise voice against corruption in the administration, finding out solutions to immediate neighborhood problems and engage in political discourse.
The origin and growth of regional language newspapers in the country is closely associated with their mission for the public good. The publication of print newspapers was considered a social service rather than a business during the pre-independence period. As a result philanthropic-minded individuals and institutions extended financial support for such efforts. During the post-independence period a new model of government support through release of advertisement-enriched print newspaper economics. There was also considerable growth in commercial advertisement revenue. The regional language newspaper industry adopted to advertisement enriched business model.
However, a handful of publications in each language category could benefit from the model. While first three to six widely circulated newspapers turn eligible to receive commercial advertisements and a dozen or so received considerable government advertisements. About 95 percent of print newspapers in regional languages survive only with a hope to receive such advertisements. Thus, a large portion of print newspapers are compelled to adopt pro-government and pro-industrial editorial stand, either to continue or achieve the support of their advertisement sources. Such a media ecosystem is a cause of concern for democracy.
Indian language media platforms fail to balance in the business due to limited number consumers. They have to spend more money for their products to compete with the national level players, but get less from the market. Publication of government advertisements and adoption of pro-administration policies result in loss of pubic faith and news avoidance among the consumers which adversely affect their operations in the long run. Such situation prevail among majority of language press except a few in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Bengali etc. where media consumer base is high. The situation compel the newspapers to seek government patronage. To overcome the vicious-circle experimentation with alternative editorial and business models seems to be a viable option.
Replication of successful publication models employed elsewhere in the international field can reap dividends for regional language small and medium print newspapers in India. Adopted models may need little corrections to suit to the local situations. Emerging practice of citizen journalism is one of such techniques to build-up a new news landscape to engage readers, promote consumer confidence and serve the community strengthening democractic values.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on March 24, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-294
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
Albarado, Sonny. Citizen Journalism. Encyclopaedia Britannica, 21 Nov 2018