Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives, Volume Two

Edited by Einar Thorsen and Stuart Allan
Published in 2014, published by Peter Lang (New York)

This second volume of Citizen Journalism: Global Perspectives seeks to build upon the agenda set in motion by the first volume, namely by: 1) offering an overview of key developments in citizen journalism since 2008, including the use of social media in crisis reporting; 2) providing a new set of case studies highlighting important instances of citizen reporting of crisis events in a complementary range of national contexts; 3) introducing new ideas, concepts and frameworks for the study of citizen journalism; and 4) evaluating current academic and journalistic debates regarding the growing significance of citizen journalism for globalising news cultures. The book expands on the first volume by offering new investigations of citizen journalism in the United States, United Kingdom, China, India and Iran, as well as offering fresh perspectives from national contexts around the globe, including Algeria, Columbia, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia and West Papua, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Myanmar / Burma, New Zealand, Norway, Palestine, Puerto Rico, Russia, Singapore, Syria, and Zimbabwe.

Hyderabad, India | 15-19th July 2014
Co-editor, Einar Thorsen, and several chapter authors will be present at the IAMCR conference in Hyderabad this summer.
Montreal, Canada | 6-9 August 2014
Peter Lang will be present at the AEJMC conference in Montreal this autumn, and there will be copies of the book available at their stall. Get 25% discount on Peter Lang books from their AEJMC price list (offer expires 9th September 2014).


Online technologies help us re-imagine contemporary forms of journalism and news storytelling. This outstanding volume cuts through the hype to present important insights on citizen journalism, through an array of case studies drawn as citizens around the world become key players in the sociology of news. This is an essential and compelling read for students, scholars, and all those interested in what the future holds for journalism.

Professor Zizi Papacharissi
Department of Communication, University of Illinois at Chicago

This book puts the latest developments in citizen media into global perspective. Anyone who follows this trend will gain new insights - and far from losing momentum, this trend is gaining strength.

Professor Dan Gillmor
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Arizona State University

Those who think that to study citizen journalism is to court the trivial and the banal should think again: this is a serious book about a serious subject. Thorsen and Allan have gathered a compelling set of narratives and arguments that together make a powerful case for the role of citizens in the business of reporting crises around the world, a task that has long been reserved for the professional journalist. This is no mere celebration, however - the volume engages with the limits of citizen reporting, the better to place it within existing and emerging forms of journalism practice.

Professor Chris Atton
School of Arts and Creative Industries, Edinburgh Napier University

Table of Contents

Section One: Re-imagining Citizen Journalism

Our opening chapter by Yasmin Ibrahim, “Social Media and the Mumbai Terror Attack: The Coming of Age of Twitter,” docu- ments one of the initial points of journalistic engagement with social media which, with the benefit of hindsight, proved formative. This terror attack, which saw ordinary citizens relaying eyewitness accounts and imagery of the horrors across the webscape, raised troubling questions, including with respect to the role of broad- casting protocols in live telecasts of violent incidents. It also highlighted, she argues, the risks that emerge in social media platforms through the “act of sharing” during such moments of crisis.
Lindsay Palmer, in her chapter “CNN’s Citizen Journal- ism Platform: The Ambivalent Labor of iReporting,” examines the use of CNN’s citizen journalism platform, iReport. Taking the platform’s citizen coverage of the 2009 Iranian uprising as her case study, she contends that individuals prepared to think of themselves as iReporters typically become involved in complex, some- times contentious relationships with news organisations intent on making use of their work for their own purposes. Palmer’s analysis reveals that “citizen coverage of global conflict is a story of both exploitation and subversion,” one beset with tensions associated with the increasingly disruptive informational milieu consistent with network cultures.
The agenda-setting power of citizen journalism is the focus of Chris Greer and Eugene McLaughlin’s “Righting Wrongs: Citizen Journalism and Miscarriages of Justice,” with specific reference to miscarriages of justice. Their empirical analy- sis elucidates the interaction of media, political and judicial forces following the death of newspaper vendor, Ian Tomlinson, shortly after being struck by a police officer at the G20 Protests in London in 2009. The police denial that an officer had been involved was flatly contradicted by evidence revealed by the Guardian six days later, namely a video clip documenting the assault, handed over to it by an American visitor to the city. The rise of citizen journalism is shown to bring to bear countervailing imperatives for those institutions that traditionally have been able to control the information environment.
Disruptions to the flow of communicative power in the name of justice similarly reverberate in Lilie Chouliaraki’s chapter, ‘“I Have a Voice”: The Cosmopolitan Ambivalence of Convergent Journalism.” A vital dimension of journalism’s performative ethos, she argues, is characterised by a shift from the professional act of informing towards citizen-driven acts of deliberating and witnessing—what she calls the disposition of “I have a voice.” Whilst this shift in the epistemology of the news has been welcomed as a democ- ratisation of journalism, her contrasting case studies—the Haiti earthquake (2010) and the Egypt uprising (2011)—demonstrate that variation in the use of citizen- driven journalism reflects a concomitant variation in the power relations of Western mediation. Such structures, Chouliaraki believes, “selectively give voice to distant others, silencing the voice of the Haiti earthquake victims but amplifying the voice of Egyptian protesters, and, in so doing, encourage recognition of the plight of the later whilst depoliticising the condition of the former.”
Kristina Riegert’s “Before the Revolutionary Moment: The Significance of Lebanese and Egyptian Bloggers in the New Media Ecology” addresses similar themes. In contrast with celebratory claims crediting social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, with ushering in the Arab Spring in 2011, she delves into an array of factors that helped to engender the demonstrations that swept through the region. Of particular importance, she shows, is the emergence of bloggers and citizen journalists in the years beforehand, not as causal agents but rather as part of a wider media ecology confronting authoritarian power structures. She traces the online relationships between popular bloggers in Lebanon and Egypt in order to identify how, when and why citizen journalism makes a difference in a crisis media event like that of the Arab uprisings.
Staying with the focus on blogging in nearby national contexts, Neil Thurman and James Rodgers’ chapter “Citizen Journalism in Real Time? Live Blogging and Crisis Events” analyses data gathered on the consumption of live online coverage of crisis events. They proceed to examine live blogging’s relevance to debates about citizen journalism with reference to recent examples from Syria and Algeria. In assessing the opportunities and challenges for live blogging or utilizing citizen contributions—and thereby for journalism more widely—they argue that this type of reportage, when used with care, can enhance our news provision to considerable advantage.

Section Two: Capturing Crisis

Section Two begins with Donald Matheson’s chapter, “Tools in Their Pockets: How Personal Media Were Used During the Christchurch Earthquakes,”which explores the roles of personal, portable media in people’s responses—suggestive of what he calls a “supportive intimacy” amongst strangers online—to the twin earthquakes that hit the city of Christchurch, New Zealand in 2010 and 2011. Matheson also reflects on the limits of citizen media, such as when the importance of place-based, face-to-face forms of community interaction came to the fore after electricity-based media collapsed in the wake of the second, devastating quake.
In “Hurricane Sandy and the Adoption of Citizen Journalism Platforms,” Trevor Knoblich extends this discussion of natural disasters. He points out that as new tools for capturing text, photographs and videos emerge, citizen journalists have increasing opportunities to participate in documenting, sharing, and providing nuance to breaking news events. In turn, each crisis event illustrates that public familiarity with a social media or other communications platform, as well as persistent access, largely determines how citizens choose to share information. His investigation shows how citizen journalists used a variety of tools to share information about Hurricane Sandy in the Eastern United States, as well as how they adapted when access to a given platform of choice became limited.
The pressures of breaking news similarly feature in Einar Thorsen’s “Live Reporting Terror: Remediating Citizen Crisis Communication.” For individuals caught up in the two attacks carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway in July 2011, tragic forms of self-publishing emerged. In the case of the Oslo car bomb, eyewitness observations offered a sense of raw immediacy; victims of Breivik’s shooting spree on Utøya were publishing cries for help, confirming they were alive and desperate for information. Despite the different modalities, ordinary citizens’ contributions to documenting the unfolding crisis were vital. Through a comparative analysis of international news organisations’ live blogging of the attacks, Thorsen further highlights the global remediation of citizen eyewitness accounts—from the initial assumption that the attacks were grounded in “international terrorism” to the confirmation of Breivik as a domestic right-wing extremist.
Several related chal- lenges where news imagery is concerned are brought to light by Mette Mortensen’s “Eyewitness Images as a Genre of Crisis Reporting.” She observes that amateur, non-professional image makers frequently become the initial link in the chain of breaking news because of the on-the-spot documentation they provide. News organisations draw upon eyewitness images for several reasons, not least due to their association with an exclusive insider perspective and proximity in time and space to events. Still, Mortensen argues, even if they are habitually considered authentic on account of their urgency, immediacy, and handheld aesthetics, this type of imagery recurrently puts the norms, editorial routines, and professional self-perception of journalism to the test.
Stuart Allan’s “Reformulating Photojournalism: Interweaving Professional and Citizen Photo-reportage of the Boston Bombings” is the first of two chap- ters investigating another crisis event where journalism was severely tested, namely the bombing of the Boston marathon in April 2013 that killed three people and left 264 others injured. Allan’s analysis sets the experiences of professional news photographers that day in relation to the improvised photo-reportage shared by ordinary bystanders who happened to be on the scene. In so doing, he elaborates the concept of “citizen witnessing,”as he has developed it elsewhere (Allan, 2013), as one possible way to recast the prospects for refashioning journalism. Specifically, he argues for the need to create innovative spaces for a collaborative, co-operative ethos of connectivity between professionals and ordinary citizens in order to rein- vigorate, in this instance, photojournalism’s public service commitments.
Graham Meikle’s complementary chapter, “Citizen Journalism, Sharing, and the Ethics of Visibility,” examines a further dimension of citizen involvement in the news coverage of the Boston bombings. The focus of his discussion concerns the use of the social media platform Reddit by networks of individuals who attempted to crowdsource the identities of possible bombing suspects by sharing images and speculation. Situating these events within the frame of citizen journalism, Meikle considers the centrality of sharing to social media and its uses for nonprofessional journalism and related forms of collaborative information provision. He argues that such uses reveal the need for an ethics of visibility to be secured on the basis of the lessons learned from what happened in Boston.

Section Three: Globalising Cultures of Citizen Journalism

The scene is set by Silvio Waisbord’s “Citizen Journalism, Development and Social Change: Hype and Hope,” which pursues questions that go to the heart of the relationship between citizen journalism and public dialogue and opinion for- mation. All too often, he argues, analyses fall into a celebration of citizen journalism “as the crystallization of individual expression,” which tends to obscure, in turn, important issues concerning communication rights and opportunities for collective actors, as well as the institutional contexts for participation and decision making.
Clemencia Rodríguez’s “A Latin American Approach to Citizen Journalism” elab- orates a similar thematic, in part by exploring the factors shaping this approach as an alternative to the Global North’s priorities. In Latin America, she argues, citizen journalism is a practice of resistance, one that brings together social movements, activists, and other social justice collectives in a shared refusal to accept that only professional news organizations can practice journalism. In seeking to expand and enrich the public sphere with information key to democratic processes, its guiding tenets are informed by commitments to social responsibility and the public interest. In the course of her discussion, Rodríguez draws upon examples from her fieldwork with citizens’ media producers in regions of armed conflict in Colombia.
In “Getting into the Mainstream: The Digital/Media Strategies of a Feminist Coalition in Puerto Rico,” Firuzeh Shokooh Valle considers several related issues as they have been taken up by women working for gendere quality. Specifically, she investigates how the feminist movement in Puerto Rico has employed a listserv— the coalition’s main virtual platform—to secure a safe space for news and infor- mation to circulate, as well as discussions, deliberation, networking, strategizing, consensus building, decision making, and task distribution.
The use of citizen media in the struggle for social change similarly figures prominently in Yomna Kamel’s “Reporting a Revolution and Its Aftermath: When Activists Drive the News Coverage.” Ranging from “the image of the Tunisian Bouazizi to the image of the Egyptian blue bra-girl who was dragged, stripped and brutally beaten by security forces in Cairo’s Tahrir Square,” she writes, “huge amounts of visual and textual content have been posted and circulated on social media platforms by citi- zen journalists, who are also activists after a cause.” Kamel proceeds to examine the nature of their relationships with professional journalists, showing how diverse forms of networking via social media have helped to amplify their voices. Many of those blurring the boundaries between citizen journalism and activism have succeeded in making their stories heard in international media contexts, which she assesses in relation to Al-Jazeera, the BBC, CNN, Russia Today and XINHUA.
“While the IT avalanche of the past decade has made it technically possible for anyone to report anything from anywhere,” Kayt Davies writes, “the biting reality from the frontlines of simmering repressive contexts, such as Indonesia’s disputed territories, is that caution is required to keep citizen journalists safe.” In Davies’ chapter, “Citizen Journalism in Indonesia’s Disputed Territories: Life on the New Media Frontline,” she details the evolution of online media in these places and analyses the work done by humanitarian and new media groups. This includes consideration of how well their work fits existing definitions of media practices and roles, and the importance of allowing the people affected by conflict and repressive regimes to speak their truths.
Karina Alexanyan, in “Civic Responsibility and Empowerment: Citizen Journalism in Russia,” examines the reasons why it is necessary to disentangle the role of the citizen from that of the journalist, and how both are shaped by socio-political contexts. In semi-authoritarian environments like Russia, she argues, online and mobile technologies have not only facilitated the emergence of participatory journalism, they have engendered “a novel sense of civic society, responsibility and consciousness” with significant implications for civic empowerment and activism.
This theme echoes in a different way in Last Moyo’s “Beyond the Newsroom Monopolies: Citizen Journalism as the Practice of Freedom in Zimbabwe.” Focusing on the Kubatana blog as a case study, he evaluates the extent to which it serves as a forum for the articulation of personal freedoms otherwise difficult to express. Efforts to recast blogging as citizen journalism, he argues, have as their aim the establishment of an alternate- subaltern space where citizenship is imagined in radical terms, namely as discur- sive, deliberative, participative and transformative.

Section Four: New Crises, Alternative Agendas

Section Four commences with Lisa Lynch’s “‘Blade and Keyboard In Hand’: Wikileaks and/as Citizen Journalism.” She begins by pointing out that although some observers have labelled Wikileaks a “citizen media outlet” in order to dis- tinguish it from the professional press, closer scrutiny reveals that the relationship between Wikileaks and the citizen-journalist is not so straightforward. She explores Wikileaks’ roots in citizen media, its turn towards engagement with mainstream media, and its more recent incarnation as a “read-only” resource indexing materials of interest to activists and scholars concerned with the exercise of US soft power.
Questions of power similarly underpin Nik Gowing’s chapter, “Beyond Journal- ism: The New Public Information Space,” which contends that the proliferation of social media is creating new levels of near-instant accountability while, at the same time, provoking acute vulnerabilities for business, governments and social systems. In tracing the features of this information space, Gowing proceeds to pinpoint a range of factors impacting upon institutions, forcing them to adapt to changing circumstances in a climate of uncertainty. Illustrating his thesis with a range of examples from different case studies, he shows why, in his view, certain guiding principles of political and corporate governance need to change.
Related themes regarding crisis reporting and information flow resound throughout “The Evolution of Citizen Journalism in Crises: From Reporting to Crisis Management,” by Hayley Watson and Kush Wadhwa. In reassessing the role citizen journalists play in contributing to the construction of news, they con- sider its impact for crisis managers. Certain advantages as well as problems come to light in the course of their enquiry into how managers work to incorporate the real-time news and information afforded by citizen journalism into their response efforts.
Casting a valuable light on these dynamics is Lei Guo’s chapter, “Citizen Journalism in the Age of Weibo: the Shifang Environmental Protest.” While cit- izen journalism is generally considered to be flourishing on China’s Twitter-like micro-blogging service Weibo, its effectiveness came under intense pressure when a large-scale environmental protest against a government-approved copper plant sought to use it as a platform to spread news about the ensuing conflict.
Surveil- lance of a different register is examined in Mary Angela Bock’s “Little Brother Is Watching: Citizen Video Journalists and Witness Narratives.” In accentuating the importance of attending to the politics of witnessing giving shape to citizen journalism, she compares and contrasts the narrative strategies used by citizen and professional video journalists (VJs), respectively, as they endeavour to establish their authority. Her analysis is based on observations of practitioners, with one group—a self-described “cop watching” organization in the US—serving as an illustrative case study. Several stories posted by group members were chosen for textual analysis, with Bock paying particular attention to their authority-building narrative strategies.
“With institutional journalism flailing and failing in the internet Age,” Kevin M. DeLuca and Sean Lawson write, “there is much wailing about the future of news and democracy.” In their chapter, “OWS and Social Media News Sharing After the Wake of Institutional Journalism,” they actively resist the familiar confla- tion of institutional journalism with news and democracy. Instead, they argue that the internet, especially social media platforms, enables a proliferation of decentral- ized news practices to develop, which they term social media news sharing. Occupy Wall Street serves as a case study to explore the emerging news practices and politics that social media news sharing is creating.
Rounding out this section, and the book overall, is Sue Robinson and Michael L. Schwartz’s chapter, “The Activist as Citi- zen Journalist.” Drawing on a case study of the educational community in Madison, Wisconsin, they investigate some of the ways citizen activists are “working their beats” to report information in online public realms. Particular attention focuses on two “super-contributor” activists on opposing sides of a controversial charter school, showing how citizens with agendas are attempting to fill “structural holes” in an ever-evolving media ecological network through Facebook posting, commenting and blogging. To what extent, they ask, is the relevance of professional journalism being called into question by activists tapping into a maturing citizen journalistic ethos to connect civically on issues of such importance for the community.