2011: The Arab Spring
2012: The KONY Campaign (Invisible Children)
2013: The Boston Marathon Bombings
2014: The Ferguson demonstrations following the shooting of Michael Brown
These events stand as some of the most iconic news-stories of their respective years. Whilst each was covered extensively on legacy media, what connects them all is their origins as citizen journalism.
So what exactly is citizen journalism?
As you can see Jay Rosen, Journalism professor at NYU, has a simple, broad definition of citizen journalism. Rosen regards citizen journalism as the audience (i.e. people not employed to create news) using the tools at their disposal (smart phones, blogs etc.) to inform one another of current happenings. People who practice citizen journalism are therefore known as citizen journalists.
What then is the difference between regular (legacy media) journalists and citizen journalists?
The issue of authenticity is commonly cited as the differentiating factor between ‘citizen’ and ‘real’ journalists. But considering the failures of legacy journalism to present factual stories, in comparison to citizen journalism (which can be either confirmed or proven false by thousands of separate individuals), the argument that authenticity is the dividing factor seems rather baseless.
Perhaps then there is no difference between journalists and citizen journalists.Both participate in the reporting and dispersal of information to an audience. The only perceptible difference is that legacy journalists and journalism is done for profit, whereas citizen journalists usually go unpaid.
Furthermore, as citizen journalism has gained traction more and more legacy journalism organisations have begun to use material collected by citizen journalists (especially in conflict zones where organisations may be hesitant to send their journalists) and even recruit prolific citizen journalists (such as NewJersey.com).
This is not to say that anyone who engages in an act of citizen journalism can immediately call themselves a journalist (citizen or otherwise). Just as drawing a picture does not classify you as an artist, or changing a tire classify you as a mechanic, tweeting a current event does not make you a journalist. It makes you someone who has participated in an act of journalism.
But if an individual is committed to tweeting news, to blogging current events or uploading footage for the purposes of disseminating information, then it is hard to argue why the lack of paycheck should stop them from being called a journalist.