In the digital era of smartphones, youtube, social media and blogging- a new type of reporting has emerged- “Citizen Journalism.” The potential for amateur reporters to publish their stories is greater than ever before and citizen journalism is changing the landscape of the media sphere and the journalism industry as we know it.
Surveillance is more prominent in today’s society then ever before. With the internet, smartphone apps, location services, social media and CCTV cameras– to name a few- “big brother” really is watching. Whether the surveillance power of everyday citizens is utilised in a positive or negative context, the ability to publish a story into the public domain is literally the click of a few buttons away.
The power of citizen journalism to be used as a watch-dog for the justice system has been demonstrated in recent years with cases of police brutality and corruption within the police force being exposed by surveilling citizens. As Bryce Clayton Newell discusses; “Citizens recording police, a form of action that has been coined ‘sousveillance’ (surveillance from underneath) or the ‘participatory panopticon’ has been become increasingly common in recent years” (Newell, 2014, p.59).
Citizen journalism can have an impact on the public’s perception of law enforcment and its legitimacy and can be used to hold police officers accountable for their misconduct. The subway shooting of Oscar Grant in San Francisco in 2009 is an example of this- bystanders recorded the shooting on their phones and the footage was released to media stations and youtube- which eventually led to the conviction of the police officer who carried out the shooting (Newell, 2014, p.61).
On the flip-side, modern surveillance technology is also allowing those in power- such as law enforcement- to have a greater ability to track and monitor members of the public. As Newell discusses- “In recent years, police officers and law enforcement agencies have been conducting increasingly sophisticated (and intensive) information gathering through visual and spacial surveillance of citizens and public spaces” (Newell, 2014, p.60). Greater use of surveillance may be viewed as a measure of protection for members of society, though as Kingsley Dennis discusses- it could also become an intrusion of privacy (Dennnis, 2008, p.351).
Citizen journalism or ‘smartphone journalism’ may be beneficial for exposing wrong doing within society (particularly with those abusing their power) through citizen vigilantism, though the ramifications for professional journalists could be dire. News corporations may have the option to publish breaking stories from members of the public at little or no cost, which leaves the role of the journalist redundant. Citizen journalists with little knowledge of journalistic ethical conduct have the potential to land themselves in hot water or breach privacy laws.
Dennis, K 2008, Keeping a close watch- the rise of self-surveillance and the threat of digital exposure, Sociological Review Vol.56 Issue 3, p.351
Newell, BC 2014, Crossing Lenses: policing’s new visibility and the role of “smartphone journalism” as a form of freedom- preserving reciprocal surveillance, Journal of Law Technology & Policy; Spring2014, Vol.2014 Issue 1, pp. 59-61