Journalism is more complex than just simply just covering the news. In this article, media update’s Nakedi Phala discusses the tug of war between professional journalism and citizen journalism, as well as their pros and cons.

Citizen journalism has many benefits. This includes being the first hand of raw information in a community. While professional journalism is enjoyed for intensively vetted information which makes it reliable.

Here are some underlying differences between professional journalism and citizen journalism:

Citizen journalism is usually first on the scene

There is no denying that citizen journalists are the first to report in most circumstances as they’re part of the community and are closer to unfolding events.

When something newsworthy happens, who better to share the news first than the people who are there, experiencing it firsthand?

Being the first to report news means that your facts are firsthand information and, with the ease of sharing information on social media platforms, it is easy for them to publish the news right there and then.

And since there aren’t any editing processes that take place, the sharing of news sourced by citizen journalists goes out before the minute is over.

What this means for this type of journalists is that they are more likely to gain popularity than others. This is because they are reporting directly and instantly from the scene, making them (in the eyes of the public) a hero that serves the public’s interest. And in more cases than not, they are doing so in what could be some very dangerous circumstances.

By gaining admiration from the general public, these journalists tend to find themselves gaining much more traction, engagement and a higher potential of being used as a credible source of information.

Professional journalists follow ethics and standards to the ‘t’

Professional journalists are taught about ethics and standards right from their time of studying. This equips them with the knowledge about the things that they can and cannot do when reporting on the news.

Ethics and standards are there to govern journalists to make sure they report news that is accurate and is in no way baised. Unlike citizen journalism, there are editors in professional journalism who are governed by editorial policies, which guide and hold them accountable to select the right information to be published or broadcasted.

Unlike a citizen journalist, they don’t have vast knowledge on journalistic ethics and standards, while a pro journo is garnished with the knowledge of ethics through education and training meaning if they choose to act against those ethics it’s out of choice and it’s led by intent.

Citizen journalism is not regulated

Since anyone can be a citizen journo, this means that in the midst of it all, some of them may be sharing news that drives an agenda or sensitive information.

Without a code of conduct, citizen journos enjoy unlimited publishing power of any news without it being censored, quoted or is offensive. This kind of uncensored information can be dangerous when shared on social media platforms and blogs; it can foster hate and discrimination amongst members of a community.

Here are two clips which have the same content — one from an online news publication (that is regulated) showing a subjects faces as censored and one from a citizen journalist showing the subjects’ uncensored faces:

Clip I

Clip II

Even though the citizen journalist warned viewers of the graphic imagery in the content, the identity of the subjects wasn't protected. In this regard, we can agree that there’s a need for some sort of a regulatory body for citizen journos and the content they share.

Professional journalism is not concerned about time

A professional journalist isn’t concerned about being first because rushing to publish a story could lead you to publishing information that is incomplete or factually incorrect.

Being the first to publish news is all good and well until audiences learn that some information is unreliable. Sometimes fame in the name of ‘being the first’ is not always what it’s cut out to be.

Citizen journalism is useful in reporting war

In some countries, citizen journalists are the last hope for reporters in letting the world know about the terrorism and war taking place in their homelands.

An article published in WIRED, discusses how citizen journalists in Aleppo, Syria risked their lives in order to capture all the terror through their smart devices after close to 70 professional journalists were killed in the conflict.

Citizen journalists are very valuable in this instance, as they are the last standing source of information to tell the world what is happening elsewhere. And these journalists continue to show their importance with recent violent events unfolding in Nigeria and Congo. See below for some clips:

Citizen journalists and professional journalists can partner up

With professional journalism being more formal and citizen journalism being less so, both have their own advantages.

A partnership between the two can benefit both parties in many ways. While both gain the advantage of providing the news first-hand, they also maintain their positions as credible and upstanding professionals within the industry. And who wouldn’t want to be so well thought of as a journalist?

In this way, a citizen journalist will gain knowledge on the type of news to share with the public and which is not wise to share and they can enjoy mentorship from professional journalists.

Citizen journalists are helpful in reporting on what’s happening around them. Are you one? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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Citizen journalism is a branch of reporting that involves everyday people reporting on news as and when it happens around them. Find out How social media drives citizen journalism