Since 1999, emerging media such as citizen journalism has been instrumental in changing the social landscape of our world. The internet and the blogosphere are just a few examples of platforms that have given tremendous power of expression to the public. It seems that all of a sudden people have been bestowed with power that has the muscle to overwhelm even a government.
A decade earlier, some protestors numbering 40,000 strong at the WTO meeting at Seattle embarked on a journey to prove their agenda by using the internet. For the first time in history, ordinary people could view and read the stories of the protestors before it was aired on local television. Such was the impact that there are now more than 200 international meetups worldwide preparing ordinary citizens to voice their opinions regardless of what their government or the press has to say. In fact, the emerging media of internet, blogs, tweets and forums have given rise to a new branch of journalism that lay dormant since the proliferation of mass media.
The rapid acceptance of this new form of media is evident by the foundation of such participatory websites as OhmyNews. Just a year after the 1999 WTO protests, hundreds of citizens in South Korea started writing their stories on OhmyNews. Within a few years, 40 traditional reporters were dwarfed by more than 50,000 contributors from the general public. The conservative political environment of South Korea was soon swathed in the craze that is still playing a vital role in refurbishing the hindrances that the society at large deems improper.
Soon after that, themeparkinsider.com, an informal website, won a prominent and important award, the Online Journalism Award. It was the first online publication to gain such a prestigious award in the year 2001. This website was frequented by theme park enthusiasts who began publishing their stories on numerous accidents inside major theme parks. They also contributed safety tips to prevent future mishaps. To this day, the phenomenon of citizen journalism and informal reporting continues to ignite passion among the public.
In the Philippines, the trend of sharing news through video and texts has produced many breaking news stories on public television.
Text messaging was believed to be instrumental in bringing in the crowds to EDSA to protest and call for the ouster of then Philippine President Joseph Estrada who was facing impeachment charges in the Senate. After a piece of evidence was blocked from being presented by the President’s Senate allies and the impeachment prosecutors staged a walk-out, the opposition and activists used text messaging to mobilize people to gather at EDSA in an effort to replicate the EDSA Revolution of 1986. Within hours and a day, thousands of people were at the EDSA Shrine. The government and the military withdrew their support from President Estrada and then Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as the enxt Philippine President.
ABS-CBN, a media giant in the Philippines, took an extra step by offering the nation with workshops targeted at those who aspire to be citizen journalists. So far, more than 15,000 people have enrolled in these workshops. This effort also proved instrumental in helping Philippines administer the first ever computerized elections where hundreds of people volunteered to patrol polling stations.
Recently, someone from the public recorded a phony escort vehicle breaking traffic rules by driving on the wrong side of the highway. The video made headlines and created a huge uproar in the country, prompting authorities to track down the culprits. Traffic violations in Philippines were becoming frequent from high profile local dignitaries, but such videos have put immense pressure on statesmen to curb this notorious habit.
Immediately upon assuming office, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III disallowed the use of sirens or counter flow traffic travel with escorts by government officials as a symbolic gesture of his governance reform agenda. He is the first Philippine President to forbid such acts. It is likely that this decision had no relation to the video mentioned in the preceding paragraph, but it is an indication of how people in government have become conscious and sensitive to these sentiments voiced out in non-traditional fora such as social media. After all, that simple symbolic gesture by President Aquino on the first days in office was instrumental in his pretty high approval ratings and popularity among the public.
Nowadays, emerging media is being used extensively around the world to create an immediate impact on mainstream media. In fact, citizen journalism is seen as creating a positive influence and pressure on society and on mainstream journalism.
Still, there are critics who think that news coverage is better left to those who are trained to offer a neutral account of an event.
New York Times is the best example of an institution that has repeatedly criticized citizen journalists by claiming that most people stray away from the principles of objectivity. Various editors of NY Times have argued that only trained journalists are able to deliver news stories by providing an unbiased and impartial account of an incident.
In December 2009 issue of Digital Journalist, editors argued that the term “citizen journalist” should be replaced with “citizen news gatherers.” The editorial publicly stated that making a comparison of journalists to ordinary people is unwise. It gave a hypothetical example of the White House opening up its gates and permitting entrance to a presidential visit to all those with camera phones.
There can also be complications such as during the Buncefield Oil explosion in 2005 where the BBC was approached by a number of people, including children, who offered to return to the scene and capture “better pictures” despite the fact that the area was still considered a danger zone.
Debate will continue
However, a lot of increasing opportunities continue to be on the rise for those willing to share what they have witnessed or to voice out their opinions on forums, internet blogs and text messages.
It will be very difficult to create rules that will administer to everyone in the boundless world of digital space. For now, self-regulation will be the most practical solution concerning the issue of conduct and ethics in this new environment. In the meantime, the role and value of emerging media will continue to be debated. 2011