What Is Citizen Media Anyway?

Image credit: "Castaway," by emeraldschell, Flickr (public domain)

When we talk about “citizen media,” what do we actually mean?

Generally, “citizen media” is a term that is used to describe the content produced by everyday people who are not otherwise professional journalists, photographers, videographers, or writers. It is often connected with the ways in which the rise of the Internet has “democratized” access to high-quality digital media tools and allowed individuals to produce content and distribute it to wide audiences, even in real-time.

In “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information,” a report commissioned by the American Press Institute, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, used the term “participatory journalism” to describe the rise of citizen media activists working with emerging digital platforms. They defined participatory journalism as:

The act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing and active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. The intent of this participation is to provide independent, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires.

We are not simply talking about people posting pictures of their cat to Facebook or writing flaming rants in the comment section of YouTube videos. We are focused on the ways that citizens are taking a more active role in helping craft our public narratives and worldviews.

That’s the kind of work we are most interested in here at the Citizen Media Center, with one caveat. We see citizen media as encompassing more than citizen journalism. As important as news and information is to a democracy, art and story are just as critical.

A word about the “citizen” in “citizen media”

When we use the word “citizen,” we are using the term in its more general meaning – a person who resides in a particular place. We are not interested in drawing lines between groups of people based upon their official legal relationship to this or any State. In this sense, we see citizens as people residing in a particular place and who are taking active roles in determining the future of that place.




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