Citizen Journalism As User-generated Content And Professional Journalism In The Digital Age

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The participation of citizens in the public sphere through social media platforms, frequently described by terms such as interactivity and user-generated content (UGC). In the context of multimedia journalism, ‘Citizen journalism’ in the forms of hosted blogging, amateur (YouTuber), and even social media post (Facebook, Twitter) are testimonials of UGC that enable individuals to engage, create and disseminate content through the web (Brandtzaeg, 2018; Curran, 2010; Jönsson & Örnebring, 2011; Singer & Ashman, 2009).

The online environment undeniably generates a greater expectation for end-user to engage with and control over content (Jönsson & Örnebring, 2011). This has blurred roles between news producers and news consumers (Bruns, 2008; Jenkins, 2006), and place a threat to disrupt the gatekeeping (sources, filtering, verification, ethics in journalism) function of the professional press. Simultaneously, the enabling engagement and user control through news media and social media result in concerns on business models of the journalism industry.

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The influence of social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube; the emergence of smart devices like smartphones and tablets; the growth of opportune digital publishing technology, (Curran, 2010; Holton, Coddington, & Gil de Zúñiga, 2013; Jönsson & Örnebring, 2011; Kröll, 2015) establish the fact that thousands of journalists all around the world are losing their jobs. “Traditional media like newspapers, radio or television are struggling with the loss of audience, revenue and attention.” (Kröll, 2015). However, there are many scholars and media institutions who believe that journalism still matters despite the growth of citizen journalists and amateurs (Anderson, Bell, Emily, & Shirky, Clay, 2015; Shirkey, 2008; Singer & Ashman, 2009). The value of content from online citizen journalists and amateur in the marketplace is still little to be known and trusted by the general audience. The research by Carpenter (2008), stories from online citizen journalist tend to use more unofficial sources and opinion and less likely to follow media practices.

However, there are arisen tensions for online journalism industry: 1. What are the risks of losing control over content/information to citizen journalist? 2. Given a transformation of the way news produced, disseminated and consumed, professional journalism will be obsoleted? 3. What are the challenges and opportunities for both online citizen and professional journalism?

This paper will examine how ‘Citizen Journalism’ content function in the contemporary online environment, particularly through news media and social media platforms. I will also discuss the three questions above along with some significant examples focusing on information/content authority and new forms of commercialization in the journalism industry.

Citizen Journalism and Professional Journalism in The Digital Environment

Earlier than the internet, ‘traditional’ media were defined by two categories: broadcast media and communi¬cations media. Radio, television, movies, and newspapers were labeled as broadcast media. The content usually was broadly delivered from a central station to consumers or audience to see, to subscribe or to consume (Carlson, 2009; Shirkey, 2008).

Broadcast media represented one-way information from one sender to many receivers. Communications media were medium such as telegrams developing to telephone calls and faxes. “Conceptually, communications media are like a tube; the message put into one end is intended for a particular recipient at the other end” (Shirkey, 2008, p. 86).

When the Web 2.0 invented along with the internet, it integrates Participative, Collaborative (comment, share, like) roles and Social Web role (social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) emphasizing authority of ‘user-generated content’, ease of use, participatory culture and interoperability (Benkler, 2006; DiNucci, 1999; O’Reilly, 2005). The internet and digital technology have enabled two way-communication where the audience become active and can communicate back to the information sender. In the context of Journalism, user-generated content is defined by the terms of ‘Citizen Journalist’ and ‘Amateur’ that use web-based platform in the forms of blogging, posting, and even YouTubing to create and disseminate news and multimedia content (Curran, 2010; Holton et al., 2013; Jönsson & Örnebring, 2011; Kröll, 2015). The definition of citizen journalism “involves active public participation by non-journalists outside of media organizations who can engage in news-making and news-gathering processes without traditional journalistic routines and norms” (Kim & Lowrey, 2015). There is evidence indicating that social media play a significantly important role in journalism because citizens of these media find events and information journalists are not aware of, and they stimulate ideas and present them without needing to go through journalism principals (Hess 2013; Richards 2013). Through diversified news content and digitalization forms, the public is enabled to speak out and spreading the news to a large audience by using platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In other words, citizens are crafting, augmenting or fact-checking the news on their own or in collaboration with others (Glaser, 2006). For example, you might write about a national election on your blog or in an online forum. Or you could fact-check a newspaper article from the mainstream media and mark out factual errors or bias on your blog then link it to your Facebook or Twitter account. Or you might witness a video of an interesting event happening in your city and post/live it online. Or you might record a video of a similar event, edit and post it on YouTube.

There are some critiques over the recognition of citizen journalism because not all citizens are trained with professional experience or have access to resources to create and present content that qualifies as journalism (Glaser, 2006 ; Fonseca, 2017). First, citizen journalism is content generated with a less likely professional background, they are not bounded to the ethical standard of journalism (Franklin, 2014; Haak et al., 2012; Kim & Lowrey, 2015). Second, since anyone can be a citizen journalist, there is a concern about the lack of training and experience leading to a lack of accuracy and fairness of citizen reporting. The process of how news is produced become unsystematic because the producers do not have organizational benefits and skills (Kim & Lowrey, 2015). Citizen journalism might be vulnerable to the production and distribution of mistakes, false information and fake news (Fonseca, 2017).

“These critiques are in contrast to professional journalists, who are generally paid, trained, have access to needed sources, rely on traditional organization of production and work within a deontological setting” (Fonseca, 2017, p. 3). As stated in a paper Journalism is ‘designed to separate fact from fiction and rumor, to provide information fairly, and to produce accuracy and credibility’ (Picard, 2014, p. 508). Professional journalism is guided by the commercial vital and by a set of norms about what news¬ should be with proper organization and staffing system. These norms are effectuated not only by the consumers but by other professionals in the same area of busi¬ness (Shirkey, 2008). The norms and process of producing and distributing news are resource and time-consuming. Professional media institution or journalists themselves are facing disadvantages comparing to citizen journalists and news blogs in term of attention, viewership, and even revenue due to the higher demand of speedy and abundant availability of news from consumers (Goode, 2009; Jönsson & Örnebring, 2011; Shirkey, 2008).

It is obvious that people can now choose to receive the information they want from multiple sources, many of which are free, they turn away from newspapers and network television, and more often for online news through social media platforms (Haak, Michael, & Manuel, 2012). Moreover, “more and more consumers of news are becoming contributors to creators of the news; it’s now an era of active citizen’ (Kröll, 2015, p. 5). According to the Reuters Digital News Report, ‘Facebook is becoming increasingly dominant, with 41% (plus 6 percent) using the network to find, read, watch, share, or comment on the news each week. Also, Twitter plays an increasingly more important role as ‘an active destination for news by an audience that is deeply interested in the latest developments’ (Newman, 2015). We can see that the users’ power of selecting news along with the digital tool such as Facebook and Twitter places pressures on professional journalism “to get closer to the audience, to collaborate and co-create with them. The public has more instant access to information and is closer to the actual event than journalists are. This fact changes the creation of news from being linear and top-down to a collaborative process” (Anja Kröll, 2015, p. 6; Banks & Deuze, 2009).

In summary, traditional media have transformed from information sender-to-consumer to the circle of the consumers-to-information sender in the last decade. Web 2.0 and the internet are the main factors to make this possible and beyond. The public has the capacity to voice, create and share the ideas through social media and web-based such as a blog to their audience. They become a citizen journalist for their own territory (online social community or the public) challenging professional journalists who practice the traditional process of gathering, crafting, and disseminating news to rethinking journalism in this contemporary digital age. The scholars, Kröll and Hakk et al. introduced the concept of ‘Networked Journalism’ that professional journalists work collaboratively with the so-called citizen journalists and even general public to distilling the essence of the story that will be told.

Networked Journalism

First, we should define what is Networked Journalism and understand why the scholars suggest this concept in today’s news world. Networked Journalism is: “Journalists working with the participation of the public.” (Polis, 2015). “This collaboration includes citizen journalism, interactivity, open sourcing, wikis, blogging, and social networking, not as add-ons, but as an essential part of news production and distribution itself.” (Beckett, 2011, p.4).

Second, Networked Journalism considers the collaborative characters of today journalism when professionals and citizens/amateurs task together to gather the real story, linking to and relying on each other to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives and so on (Kröll, 2015; Beckett, 2011). Although it may create a complex relationship that will make the news, the more journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their professional journalism will become (Beckett, 2011; Haak et al., 2012). In networked journalism concept, the public can take part in a story before it is reported taking into account of new dimension and diverse perspective they hold an audience. The journalist can rely on the public to help report the story in a rapid and more holistic manner. For example, BBC inviting fifty members of the public to document their own experience of the royal wedding (Harry and Meghan) and share it across social media. The involvement of these guests acting as citizen journalists originated in 270 multimedia contents in just three days providing varying and relatable perspectives and increasing viral of the event across digital channels (Gillil, 2019).

Why Networked Journalist? Because the way the audience consumes news has changed. Through the influence of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, smart devices like smartphones, tablet plus digital technology, the audiences are no longer news receivers. They want to take part and collaborate in creating and sharing the news. “According to the 2015 Digital News Report, around 18 percent of people living in the UK used Facebook as a source of news. In 2015 the figure rose to almost 30 percent. Around the globe, one billion people use social network every day. To contrast, Twitter has 300 million users every day. What is really interesting, when it comes to Facebook and Twitter, is that people look for news on Twitter, but they bump into stories on Facebook and then share them.” (as cited by Kröll, 2015, p. 10).

There are also concerns about overload information journalists may receive from the public when producing a new story. The information provided by the audience may be fake for the sake of driving clicks and likes or when the demand of receiving speedy information may result in information inaccuracy (Haak et al., 2012; Kröll, 2015). Those could be the risks of Network Journalism. For example, On March 24th, 2015, Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed in the French Alps. The world knew that Andres Lubitz, the co-pilot was responsible just a few days after the tragic incident. He committed suicide and killed 149 passengers when he smashed the aircraft into the mountains. The world also knew his face because his appearance was published on covers and broadcasted on TV. But not all media outlets revealed the right picture. The confusion created in a tweet that accidentally aired the wrong image. Journalists who highly regarded as professionals treated this tweet under deadline pressure of breaking news as a reliable source of information without checking its validity. As a consequence, an innocent man, Andreas G., was accused of a mass murderer (Kröll, 2015). The Internet provides a convenient environment in which journalists could gather more information in a faster way. In theory, a good journalist could benefit from this and improve their performance. But there were overwhelmed sources that journalists failed to select and validate before presenting the news because of the speed requirement from the audience.

To tackle this issue, the newsroom should consider clear guidelines and procedures on how to manage information from the public before presenting it. Becket (2011) asserted that “Good verification and curation are journalist’ business model, not an add-on option”.

In summary, networked journalism emphasizes the cruciality of collaborating with their audience to produce diversified and relatable contents. However, “it is needed the support from management, the investment to create an infrastructure, and guidelines to enable effective collaboration and co-creation with the public in newsrooms, applying techniques and tools to manage and verify the data; and of course, new digital ethics” (Kröll, 2015). The core role of professional journalism (gatekeeping) has been to filter, edit, fact-check, analyze and comment—the fundamentals of verification that have existed for decades and won’t become obsolete. Not even in the Digital Age. (“Verification Handbook”, 2014).

Content controller

The citizen reporters or ‘Amateur’ referred to a person who engages in a pursuit, such as sports player, photographer, blogger, on-spot-reporter, etc on an unpaid basis (Oxford Dictionaries,” n.d.). Those amateurs less likely join platforms like Instagram, YouTube or blog to become rich and famous. They join to exchange ideas with their peers, share technical advice, obtain constructive feedback, to feel ownership and/or to improve society regardless of financial motivations (Goode, 2009; Haak et al., 2012; Kröll, 2015; Shirkey, 2008).

As discussed above, it is obvious that the more of contents amateur and citizen reporter presented in online platform, the blurrier line between professional content and theirs be. Yet, the real controller in terms of selecting to consume news and other contents online are the audiences. At the end of the day, the audiences hold the power to ‘follow’ whose content. In this sense, the value of content trustworthiness and credibility are the core quality that may be considered greater favor to professional contents rather than contents that come from an amateur or citizen. (Goode, 2009; Haak et al., 2012; Kröll, 2015).

Business Model of Digital Journalism

It seems like professional journalism is not obsolete but the fact that the declining revenues for the press media industry in the last decade is real. The loss of advertising revenues has been critical in shrinking this downturn. According to Reynolds (as cited in Franklin, 2014, p. 255), newspaper advertising in the United Kingdom chopped down to £1.9 billion (11.2 per cent of market share), while significantly, digital advertising expenditure grew from £7.1 billion (47.5 percent) in 2014 to a prominence above all legacy media at £9 billion (53.8 percent) in 2017. McCulloch revealed that “leading newspaper group Johnston Press, which owns 250 local newspaper titles (approximately one-quarter of the UK local newspaper market), announced losses of £248.7 million in the first six months of 2013.” (as cited in Franklin, 2014, p. 255-256). Realizing the crisis, traditional newspapers have been transformed into online newspapers in the form of web-based with a prominent figure on and linkage to social media like Twitter and Facebook (dominant platforms for news previewing). How the business model of this industry changed? From selling the physical newspaper to subscription, paywall, or even revenue from social media like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube?

Paywalls: is a method of restricting access to content via a paid subscription. Newspapers began to implement paywalls on their websites in mid-2010 as a new model to increase revenue after a prominent decline in paid print readership and advertising revenue (Preston, 2011). According to Mash (2014), nearly 75% of all newspapers had implemented this method (as cited in Pattabhiramaiah, Sriram, & Manchanda, 2019, p. 1), including some well-known newspapers such as the New York Times, the LA Times and the Washington Post. However, the conception of news must remain free influencing by consumers is challenging this as not a viable business model (Myllylahti, 2014). This method survives high profile newspapers, but for the general journalism industry, other methods attracting advertising revenue have been applied in these fields as well.

Pay-per-click (PPC): an internet advertising model or online advertising or Internet advertising or web advertising: a form of marketing and advertising which uses the Internet to deliver promotional marketing messages to consumers (“Pay-per-click,” 2019). PPC is used to drive traffic to websites, in which an advertiser pays a publisher when the ad is clicked.

The online newspapers focus on building their digital and online presence because is it cheaper and more sustainable and provide a more convenient and faster function to reach out to readers. When it comes to advertising, attracting new or having returning visitors both are the potential source of revenue (Fearn, 2017). This is how it works: an advertiser pays the news company with a certain amount whenever an on-site ad is clicked. The likes of Google Ads and Microsoft Bing Ads are commonly associated with PPC, and they’ve made huge profits by placing adverts on websites.

The newspapers may be able to earn money through advertising, but there are also challenges. Not all readers are happy to bother with flooded adverts on a website, and their social media. So they will find a way to get rid of them using ad blockers (Fearn, 2017).

Multiple Revenue Streams: There are some business models practicing in the journalism industry: Hyperlocal models, the emergent ecology content, aggregators, publication mechanism and user interactions and behaviors which center on a resident of a location and the business (van Kerkhoven & Bakker, 2014). Not-for-profit models obtain funding from international non-governmental organizations. Private foundations, efforts to monetize hyperlinks, and even machine-or robot-written news (as cited in Franklin, 2014, p. 257). Scholar such as Picard (2014) believes that the diversity of business models and revenues above are all practical and applicable to the journalism industry. He concluded in his paper that:

What is clear is that news providers are becoming less dependent on any one form of funding than they have been for about 150 years. Multiple revenue streams from readers and advertisers, from events and e-commerce, from foundations and sponsors, and from related commercial services such as web hosting and advertising services are all contributing income. It is too early to assess fully the efficacy and sustainability of these sources, but they provide a reason to believe that workable new business models are appearing in news provision (Picard, 2014, p. 507).

To conclude this section, the business model of journalism industry has been transformed from dependent on paid print and advertisers to varies of paywalls and multiple revenue streams. There is no exact model that works for one media outlet. The paywalls method may be practical for high profile newspapers like the New York Time, the LA Times and the Washington Post, but the combination of the method may work for the other news firms.


To conclude, global network society and the Internet are extending participation, connecting voices to the general public, and reconstructing the media institutions and practice of journalism. The participation of citizens in the public sphere through social media platforms, in the form of user-generated content (Citizen Journalism and Amateur Contents), has shaped the way news and media content produced and consumed. They are not threating to journalism, but they represent new opportunities for better journalism in today society.

Given the audience become a central power in today society with the ability to co-create, engage and even produce the content and the media, the networked journalism could be a possible concept to improve the independence and quality of professional journalism. It is an opportunity for professional journalists to collaborate with the audience to expertise their role in the online age and for society to benefit. Because this approach is a co-created method between the citizens and the professional journalists, it enables abundant expansion of information, and meaningful interpretation while the core values of professional journalism (filtering, editing, fact-checking, analyzing and commenting) remains essential.

Finally, the age of digital media undeniably has transformed all aspects of journalism, creating economic difficulties for the media industry and pressuring the industry to search for alternative business models to fund sustainable journalism for the future. Although various revenue models such as paywalls, pay-per-click, multiple revenue streams and so on have been studied and practiced, there is no guarantee the future of journalism would be sustainable. The unprecedented changes and the economic uncertainty in the digital environment require continuing experiments and implementation as the internet and digital society keep progressing.


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