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Is a citizen journalist really a journalist?

There is no doubt that the field of journalism is evolving. Some are more reluctant to adapt to the change than others in the field, but the truth is that, soon, adapting will be necessary for survival.

In previous years, the word journalist was clearly defined. It was someone who worked for a news outlet, either a newspaper or broadcast station, and earned a salary for reporting news to the community. These people usually worked long hours and had a knack for developing concise and informative stories that were relevant for society. Their role in the community was vital, as they were responsible for keeping citizens informed.

Unfortunately, there were often stories that were missed because there were only so many reporters to go around. This was most noticed when breaking news would arise. Coverage of critical moments in history were missed when a reporter wasn’t present.

That is drastically different today. With the development of new technology such as advanced digital cameras, smart phones and social media networks, any person has the power to report news as they witness it. This is what is now called a “citizen journalist”, but there has been a lot of controversy lately about whether these people are considered real journalists or not.

An incident in 2010 with a Seattle teacher outlined the issue. Teacher Melissa Westbrook was a blogger about the Seattle School District for over a decade and had gained a strong readership in the community. So, when the school called a press conference, she wanted to be admitted. However, the school denied her access and said that it was open to “traditional media only”. Melissa argued that she was a citizen journalist. After a heavy argument, the school reversed their decision and started to admit bloggers.

This decision, of course, didn’t sit well with the traditional media. Whether the industry is ready for it or not, this is an issue that is becoming more and more relevant. In fact, most of the video/picture coverage that traditional media use now comes from citizen journalists who were at the scene when the incident occurred. Some media outlets today even have a section dedicated to coverage from citizen journalists. Many would argue that the added perspective makes the news better, but some say the opposite.

What do you think? Do you think that citizen journalists enhance or weaken our news coverage?

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