The blog is a creation of the emergence of Web 2.0. Even though its life span is relatively young as a media format, it has experienced substantial changes to the way it is used and what it is used for. Technorati is an online organisation which has been tracking the blogosphere since 2002. In 2006 it recorded its 50 millionth blog. By no means is this an absolute figure and despite being several years out of date, it still indicates the sheer enormity of the online blogosphere.
Part of the appeal of blogging is the idea that a consumer is no longer entirely passive in their consumption of media. They are now a prod/user – a producer/consumer hybrid – and have the ability to create content for the entire online world to enjoy. One particular type of blogging that has emerged is citizen journalism. Essentially, citizen journalism is reportage on current events from someone who is not a professional reporter and often close to the action. Their ‘reporting’ can be in the form of micro-blogging platforms such as Twitter, an uploaded video on YouTube or even in the traditional blog post form on platform such as WordPress. Each platform allows for instantaneous publishing, something that untrained journalists would not achieve in traditional media outlets.
One of the largest criticisms of citizen journalism is the notion of reliability and credibility. Without the regulatory bodies of traditional media outlets such as the broadcast news and newspapers, individuals can essentially blog whatever they wish without much care for traditional journalistic values. Wikipedia is often critiqued for unreliability of its articles, however on its news page, Wikinews, the organisation has attempted to foster citizen journalism whilst establishing a review process to ensure reliability and credibility. Pieces posted on their site are often a collaborative project of different editors and reviewers. Multiple citations of evidence are required to be published and if something looks invalid, reviewers have to option to edit or remove the post entirely. Additionally, for important high-profile news stories, reviewers and writers need to have proved their worth to be able to partake in the creation of the news. For example, a recent post about the Kony 2012 campaign stated that only individuals of a certain rank may edit in. This reduces things such as trolling (individuals attempting to vandalise a page) and misinformed reporting. Whilst this type of regulation is not possible for all aspects of citizen journalism, it highlights a way to help reduce bad reporting.
But an important question is who actually accessed blogs for news reporting? Technorati’s 2011 report on the state of the blogosphere interviewed thousands of bloggers – who would be prime candidates for accessing citizen journalism– on how they accessed information online. What they found was that most bloggers still used traditional media organisations for their news updates.
As for reliability and credibility, the respondents also indicated that they didn’t trust blogs for accuracy as much as traditional media such as newspapers and television.
Whilst being an important debate, the argument surrounding credibility of citizen journalism needs to be contextualised. Professional journalists understand the importance and the significance citizen journalism can add to their own reporting, but also understand that they can be unreliable sources. Additionally, the online blogosphere recognise that amateur online journalism can be inadequately researched and understand that when they access it. Research shows that most bloggers still access traditional media’s online sources for news, and if anyone were to access citizen journalism blogging they would be the prime candidates. Finally, whilst Wikinews proves to be a successful example of regulation of citizen journalism, it is impossible to regulate all the blogs in the blogosphere, and individuals need to be aware of this when choosing to reject traditional news formats in favour of new platforms.