In talking and teaching about citizen journalism, people frequently emphasize the contribution of the internet and “new media,” including tools such as texting, Tweeting, blogs, video, etc. Though they disagree on whether citizen journalism is the path to perdition through the destruction of standards of accuracy and ethics or the road to salvation as old journalistic structures crumble and fall, they generally agree that citizen journalism is something new.
Jay Rosen: When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.
David Hazinski: Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn’t journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend.
Mark Glaser: The idea behind citizen journalism is that people without professional journalism training can use the tools of modern technology and the global distribution of the Internet to create, augment or fact-check media on their own or in collaboration with others.
Recently, as I prepared to teach a Spanish-language workshop about journalism to an immigrant group, I wondered how to translate “citizen journalism.” A literal translation would make it periodismo ciudadano, but that didn’t seem to have quite the same political resonance as their project. El periodismo popular – the people’ s journalism or popular journalism – seemed both more interesting and closer to the idea of active participation.
El periodismo popular has a long history, arguably including the samizdats of the former Soviet Union and the Democracy Wall in China. Gladys Diaz, a Chilean journalist who practiced journalism during the Allende years and was jailed and tortured during the coup years that followed, described her practice of journalism:
Our profession had – and this made me feel very proud – a high level of politicization. … We discussed whether it was just that there was a Radio Minería, the property of the large copper consortiums, while there was no voice for the copper workers. The same happened with the Radio Agricultura, which was directed daily to the farm workers, but with the voice (message) of the farm owners. We hoped to have a radio commentary or a newspaper column in which the journalists could express that which their bosses had censured. We wanted to be the voice of those who had no voice. [my translation]
A more academic treatment came from Stella Martini at the Fundación El Universo de Guayaquil:
What is popular journalism?
This journalism is that which “for popular readers, … permits them to exercise the right to receive information and also to be subjects [rather than objects].”
[Among its characteristics:]
1 – A more effective relationship with readers.
2 – The design of an agenda that promotes social participation.
3 – A contribution to civic debate, promoting the inclusion of marginalized sectors in public participation, … setting in motion discussion campaigns about health, housing, work, social and family violence, working for a citizen journalism.
4 – The promotion of an agenda of citizen rights.
5 – A construction of news that permits effective access to actual problems.
6 – The constitution of poverty as something outside the list of “inevitable problems.”
The first question that the Latin American conversation about el periodismo popular poses for the U.S. discussion of citizen journalism is historical: What can we learn from examples of citizen journalism/popular journalism that predate the current, wired era?
The second – and perhaps even more important – question is about the focus of the discussion of journalism. Latin American discussions of popular journalism (at least in my limited reading of these discussions) seem to focus more on the transforming the subject/object relationship of people to journalism and on using journalism to expose social problems and contribute to social change. That poses a question, for those of us in the Fourth and Fifth Estates in the United States, of whether and how to re-focus the citizen journalism discussion away from the debate over who gets to be a journalist and move it in the direction of why and on behalf of whom we engage in journalism.