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Citizen Free Press

by Nathan Zachary
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Academics have described the relationship between citizen journalists, traditional media as “multi-faceted”.

This section contains information and resources about:

  • Training citizen journalists
  • Citizen journalists involved in conflict
  • Technology and social media for citizen journalists

To promote greater representation in media, it is vital that established media professionals encourage citizen participation from local communities. Encourage ordinary citizens to share their realities, as well as the injustices and inequalities that have shaped them, and encourage them to use their right to create a narrative. Citizens can use their voice to speak out in ways that are not being heard by the dominant news media.

Training citizen journalists

To enable citizen journalists to make meaningful contributions to their communities, it is necessary to provide structured and targeted training. Proper mentoring builds confidence in citizen journalists and not only their reporting skills. Face-to-face training is the best way to achieve this. This is especially important for supporting voices that are often excluded.

FPU partner training experience

Indonesian Association for Media DevelopmentParticipation in citizen journalism during a pandemic

PPMN needed to adapt the trainings it had provided for citizen journalists during the COVID-19 epidemic. PPMN believes that citizen journalists are vital tools in reporting on issues not being addressed by marginalised communities. Therefore, they created an empowerment training program for 10 female editors from six remote locations in Indonesia. Although some of the training was done online, the participants were able to improve their leadership skills, gender mainstreaming knowledge, and management skills.

PPMN also provided protective gear to 1500 citizen journalists in order to allow them safe reporting on the coronavirus. Participation of trained citizen journalists networks has allowed them to disseminate vital health communication to communities during the pandemic. They have also reached out to children and women who are particularly vulnerable.

Itizen journalists maintain independence through independent media. These journalists must be trained and have access the established media networks.

When citizen journalists receive the right training and support, they can be reliable sources of information in their communities and act as the link between citizens and policymakers.

Talk up Zambia! Expanding the selection criteria to citizen journalist training

Women in Zambia are often ignored and not part of the public discussion. Kanyama, which is the largest slum of Lusaka, is not covered in the Zambian media. The Mama Sosa citizen journalist pilot training was designed to encourage young women from this area to share their stories, and be more critical of issues within their communities.

Initial participation criteria forin pilot required that participants have a basic level of English and digital skills. The Mama Sosacoordinators quickly realized that the program required rapid adaptation midway in order to include these skills into training. It was incorrectly assumed that participants already had these skills. The flexibility of the coordinators and the lower participation threshold made the trainings more impactful. It was very motivating to give educational recognition to girls who have never received it before.

Citizen journalists in conflict

“In wars and conflict zones, information can be scarce as misinformation, propaganda, and rumors substitute for accurate news, information.” Citizen journalists are indispensable in conflict situations. Their voices can sometimes be the only ones that reach the outside world and inform the international community about the brutality or abuses committed.

This raises ethical questions for mainstream media outlets who rely on citizen journalists in conflict situations. The traditional media often takes citizen journalists’ reporting in dangerous situations. It is important to ask the question of what ‘duty’ mainstream media has to citizen reporters, especially when it comes down to conflict. You can find more information about Safety of Journalists here.

Krajewski & Ekdale, on the other hand, identified a “participation gap” in disaster reporting. [4] They pointed out that citizen content produced in western countries was prioritized in reporting the Haitian earthquake. This replicated the “long-standing dominance of international news by those in the Global North”. (p.136). This is a great example of how citizen journalism can marginalise groups that aren’t prioritized.

In conflict zones, citizens journalists are generally more trusted than ‘industrial media outlets’ by local communities and audiences. Citizen journalists can build important, transparent relationships with victims of conflict.

IWPR training for Syrian citizen journalists

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting created a 5-day training course for citizen journalists in Syria. This is explained in Yousuf and Taylor’s article Helping Syrians tell their story to the World. This is why it is important to train these people to produce high-quality journalism while staying safe. Syria is one the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

When it is safe, media training in person is offered in north-western Syria. Taylor and Yousuf explain that participants are recruited through word of mouth, personal nominations and flyers distributed in the community centre. Training sessions can be either mixed-gender or all-one gender (p.311).

Basic workshops in print journalism are offered to the trainees. They also receive mentoring one-on-one during intensive training. The trainees learn about digital security, which is becoming a more dangerous area for citizen journalists to navigate. Yousuf and Taylor said it clearly: Digital security is a matter for life and death

Strive for objectivity

Fact checking can be a valuable role for self-organized citizen journalists. They are able to collect and evaluate content in chaotic situations. They can collect and assess content in chaotic situations.

Citizen journalists in conflict can be accused of being too subjective or unable to accurately represent the situation. Global news networks may be less inclined to increase the reporting of citizen journalists in conflict areas.

This issue can be addressed by the adoption of ethical standards. To see how objectivity can be maintained during conflicts, we have created the Ethical Charter for Syrian Media. This document outlines ethical principles that journalists must follow. Citizen journalists can also be encouraged to use a similar fact-based reporting style to attract mainstream media’s attention and build trust within their communities.

Technology, citizen journalists and social media

Today citizens can both be consumers and producers news. This is due in large part to technological advances that give citizens the same tools and resources as professional journalists. Media literacy is a problem due to greater access to media-production.

Corporate news is also better placed to exploit and dominate the internet. Social media is widely believed to level the playing field and allow anyone to report from anywhere. Established networks, however, have greater resources to monitor social media dynamics and purchase advertising.

This means that citizen content cannot be heard without amplification ([6] ]) However, there are tools available to empower citizen journalists to produce and share their content independently without the help of mainstream news media outlets.

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