The world of journalism has come a long way since the old days, when all news was either spread by word of mouth or by copies of the newspaper fresh off of the printing press. While some of those paper methods are still used today, the digital era is changing the main ways people consume news. Now, news is more commonly found through online websites and social media platforms — and along with that, new benefits and new challenges. 

Digital Age Journalism

In the digital age, audiences now have instantaneous access to the news every day. This is great in a lot of ways, because people have better access to news that can keep them informed. But as the Internationalist Journalists’ Network writes, this has also led to an unprecedented level of misinformation, the weaponizing of social media, privacy concerns, a move to closed networks, filtered information and an increased need to keep up with current trends to keep audiences engaged.

It has also changed the way journalists write and tailor news to fit audience demands. Long-form writing and in-depth coverage takes a backseat to SEO-friendly headlines and articles that summarize the jist of what a person needs to know in the first two sentences. In order to meet these demands and get news out faster, important information and context can get left out or published without intensive fact-checking.

But while the demand for news has never been higher, local newspapers are closing and newsrooms are shrinking. A recent Statista report found that 2,514 local news publications had either closed or merged within the United States between 2004 and 2022. Non-daily newspapers also fell from 7,419 to 5,147 and daily newspapers fell from 1,472 to 1,230 during that period.

In their place, however, online news platforms have emerged. And along with those online organizations are more career opportunities, including those that are work-from-home.

Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalists are often not accredited or professional working journalists. They're ordinary people who are now able to post news to their own social media accounts, blogs and independent news sites. Most people in the U.S. own smartphones, giving them quick access to platforms to post their content. This allows for a larger and more diverse range of people to share their stories, but it also leaves more room for the spread of false information.

For example, a professional journalist is trained in fact-checking and verifying and their stories are usually required to be fact-checked, edited and screened for bias, but citizen journalists are not. They may lack the necessary skills and resources to ensure the accuracy of their content, and could take an activist's approach and use their platform to promote their viewpoint. Citizen journalism may do a better job at grabbing its audience's attention, but its credibility could leave much to be desired.

Benefits of Citizen Journalism

When used correctly, citizen journalism can be instrumental. Darnella Frazier, the then-17-year-old girl who recorded the murder of George Floyd, was a large reason prosecutors had enough evidence to send his killer, former police officer Derek Chauvin, to prison. Impactful citizen journalism has been around for decades. The 1963 footage taken by Abraham Zapruder during President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on color film was ultimately sold for $150,000 to Life Magazine and later moved to the National Archives.

Citizen Journalism Today

Throughout the years, Americans have been more likely to trust an official news outlet rather than take the word of a citizen journalist. For many people, this is still the case. But there appears to be a generational divide forming.

A Pew Research Center study conducted between July 18 and Aug. 21, 2022 found roughly half of 18- to 29-year-olds in the U.S. trust news that comes from social media platforms — just under the 56% who say the same about information from national news organizations.

There are pros and cons to citizen journalism, but it looks like it may be around to stay.

Written by Emily M.

The link has been copied!