Citizen Journalism and the Future of News

Citizens are breaking down the long established barriers between those who deliver the news and those who read it

By Amy Ellen Soden, Staff Writer

On a typical Sunday morning in the year 2009, my ritual consisted of picking up a Starbucks latte and settling in with a copy of The Globe and Mail or The New York Times. Time seeped away effortlessly and I’d soak up all that was going on in the world with a tangible print paper. The activity itself was largely solitary – involving no conversation except that silent discourse flitting between my mind and the news. From Arts and Entertainment to Business and Economics, the pages of sections turned and my head became filled with stories of people and places, tragedies and celebrations, questions and opinions.

A few years ago, there was no shortage of coffee shop patrons ensconced by the fire with their papers or library browsers tucked away in armchairs with the weekend paper. News and publishing were equated with silent observation, a paper-to-person exchange, and minimal discussion. Now armed with an iPad, Samsung smartphone, and MacBook Pro, I can’t help but notice how much things have changed from a communications and business perspective. RSS feeds, blogs, social media platforms, and citizen journalism have sidestepped the expensive and laborious publishing traditions to bring news to the people – for better or worse?

Next to a sleek and shiny tablet, now a universal library for any periodical, a bulky paper with smudgy print and rustling pages seems on the verge of being deemed archaic. With the changing technologies of the digital era, the act of reading the news has quite literally been translated over to new platforms with different communicative norms. From a business standpoint, this means a few key things: increased viewership due to accessibility and digital marketing, new fee and payment structures for periodicals (app fees versus buying a newspaper from the stand) which changes the nature of costs and revenues, and perhaps most importantly, citizen participant-driven journalism – a conversation involving journalists and audience where the roles occasionally intertwine.

So what exactly is a participatory or citizen journalist and why does he or she matter to the digital publishing landscape of news content? The answer is open-ended, but what it comes down to is the idea of the citizen now driving the conversation, responding actively to the news, and becoming a part of a larger discussion forum. Leaving comments on a story, expressing an opinion on a critical piece, or the simple act of “sharing” online via digital communications channels suggests that citizens are breaking down the barriers that have so long been established between those who deliver the news and those who read it.

Is this good or bad for business? Does a broader conversation take away from the profession? There’s no right answer. One writer for The Guardian, David Marsh, speaks in favor of journalists maintaining a certain role in news delivery, setting up a standard for audiences to respond in kind to:

“Journalists should retain a powerful voice in what we do and how we do it. After all, we create the content: whether that content is words, pictures, audio or video; whether we are writers, editors, designers, or producers; whether it is published in print, on the web, via an app on your phone or tablet, or on social media – from a 140-character tweet to a 1,400-word comment article.”

The sheer breadth of accessibility and open source content is now commonplace to the mobile news reader. Flipping through the punchy headlines of my Twitter feed while jumping to my HuffPost app whilst scanning my New York Times digital reel during my daily travels can all be done in minutes.

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