October 2016.

Does citizen journalism really expose truth or just spread misinformation?

1 answer

Citizen journalism certainly has its merits. Proponents would claim it fills a vacuum created by an often biased mainstream media. It’s true: we can’t always rely on traditional media to tell us all of the news that we should be hearing, for a variety of reasons, some insidious, some practical.

But there is a big deficit between the value that citizen journalism and traditional journalism provide. As a journalist one has to be vigilant about the credibility of sources. Editors and titles have standards to uphold, reputations to protect. That creates an element of accountability and helps ensure that reports are required to meet a certain level of veracity.

With citizen journalism it is difficult to know who to trust as there are no supporting professionals to validate or vet the story. There are too many people who peddle untruths, spread rumours or are simply propagandists. Snopes is a whole website dedicated to fake stories, many of which come from citizen journalists. It picks up on the ‘journalism’ of people like James O’Keefe, who falsely claimed that Hilary Clinton’s campaign field offices were tampering with Republican voter registrations and conspiring to incite violence at Trump rallies.

Traditionally, journalists working for respected organisations had to undergo rigorous training in media law and interviewing, and were taught to be clear about the difference between news and opinion. Today anyone can claim to be a journalist. The world is a dangerous enough place as it is without irresponsible citizen journalists spreading confusion and false information.