Close this search box.

The war on war: citizen journalism vs. professional reporting

The ‘new breed of citizen journalists’ is changing the industry for professionals working in conflict or warzones, writes Julia McDonald.

‘With a camera and a picture… you can silence anyone’ states a young woman from Yemen named Nadia Abdullah. Abdullah recently became a citizen journalist after receiving a camera phone from her father. He wanted her to document the violence against young people or children throughout the uprisings so that they could give the footage to local news. This endeavour led Abdullah to the streets, even though a woman being out in public is against her culture, to document what was happening, and to help get the news out when professional journalists could not get into the area.

Elizabeth Arrot reports that Abdullah is a part of the ‘new breed of citizen journalists’ that has emerged from the uprisings. These are people with access to camera phones, technology, and a new will to contribute to the spread of truthful information despite what their government says.

Citizen journalists are often praised for their ‘real life accounts’ of conflict and tragedy; but professional journalists are often risking their lives as well to bring us information on important developments during war.

Doctor Matthew Ashton addresses this in a recent article for He points out that professionals are often seen as breaking the law, and being where they are not supposed to be, while citizen journalists are glorified for reporting through dangerous situations.  Unfortunately, the number of journalists who are killed in warzones is ever increasing. At times, journalism is right alongside firefighting and policing when it comes to risky professions, so why are the professionals getting such a negative response?

While it may be easy for citizen journalists to post content via their cell phones to social media, such as Twitter, the lack of verification of the story and the ways in which the content is interpreted can turn into a giant game of Chinese Whispers. A story has the potential to be twisted and manipulated over time, which may result in losing the intended message or the meaning. There is a much lower risk of this for professional content. The context of a story can be articulated and is not necessarily limited to only 140 characters.

This is not to say that citizen journalism provides an unimportant perspective. To understand what people, in a different situation than you, are experiencing is one of the main purposes of journalism. Nevertheless, with the amount of access to technology available, it can sometimes be an overload of opinion as opposed to more solid, investigative fact.

Trevor Young reports on Lachlan Harris’ thoughts on the rise of opinion.

‘News is a flow of information that depends on facts; opinion is a flow of information that depends on argument,’ according to Harris.

It is usually up to journalists to expose the facts for what they are in reality, void of personal bias, and then it is up to the public to form an opinion.

However, it seems we are moving into a time when one’s opinion of what’s going on is more important than factual information. Tony Uphoff blogs about why this is occurring, and speaks about trust in the social media world.

‘[T]witter breaks news and television covers it,’ he writes, referencing when Osama Bin Laden’s death was posted on twitter, but not confirmed by CNN until 20 minutes later.

The point here is that it was confirmed. While the news spreads across social media sites more quickly, Uphoff cautions readers to know the difference between gossip and news.

While it may take more time to break, there is a reason that statements take time to be released by news networks: verification. Tweets and posts can be deleted if they are incorrect, but it’s difficult to take back a live broadcast to millions of viewers. The need to be exact should make professionals more trustworthy, even if they are slower to produce the content.

The world is conflicted. Twitter users have been known to fake the death of celebrities, yet, it is also a first source for news for many people, and even the news networks. How can a source that fakes people’s death simultaneously be responsible for war updates?

As journalists take longer to edit, send and verify content, in a fast paced technological world, they are sometimes left by the wayside. However, the verified information, despite that it may cover social media’s original information, is a more important tool, and far more dependable. Sometimes the story cannot be told in only a few sentences, even if that is all society has time for.

Julia McDonald is completing her Masters of Global Communications at La Trobe University. Follow her on Twitter @Jules_mcdonald.


Related Articles

Editor's Picks