Teaching Moment: The Benefits (And Setbacks) Of Citizen Journalism

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In January of 2009, a picture of the US Airways airplane that landed in the Hudson River went viral after Janis Krums posted it on his Twitter. It was the first shot of the incident recorded, and soon enough Krums was getting phone calls from news station after news station to ask him about his first hand experience witnessing the crash.

Later that same year, an Iranian philosophy student named Neda Agha-Soltan was fatally shot during the Iranian protests against the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. An anonymous video (WARNING: extremely graphic) recorded by a cell phone went viral online, eventually becoming one of the most-watched deaths in the world. Her death became iconic in the struggle of Iranian protesters of the opposition, and the video earned the George Polk award for videography.

Along with the prevalence of mobile devices that can record videos and pictures, the rise of social media sites have allowed for people to produce and share information at a remarkable rate. Now more than ever, citizen journalists are reporting their personal experiences and sharing it as hyperlocal news.

Revolutionary technology, especially, has changed the way we look at user generated content (UGC). Montreal television director Jean-Francois Desmarais captured the 2012 student tuition riots using a mobile Wi-Fi connection to broadcast the protests via Google Hangouts using Google Glass.

But when looking at UGC, it is important to be cautious of what’s really out there. For one, citizen journalists don’t have proper training. The ethics of the newsroom don’t apply when Harry from down the street decides to share a picture of a local car accident. What’s real, and what’s fabricated? Most importantly, what’s newsworthy?

News broadcasting companies have opened up citizen journalism sites that allow users to report hyperlocal news, such as the CNN iReport. This way, UGC can be used as a supplement to traditional news reporting in order to get all aspects of a story.

For more information on citizen journalism, check out this video by The Digital Journal.

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