MANILA, Philippines— Journalists used to dish out news while the public consumed it, in toto. Journalists called the shots from content, context, coverage, or even viewing times or print editions. All that the audience or reader needed to do was keep track of news program schedules or grab a newspaper and take it all in.
Today, news consumers are choosy. In the case of television, viewers only watch what they’d like to see and "tune out” if they think the story is irrelevant, or if they feel that they know more than the reporter reporting it. They can skip news on TV, radio or newspapers altogether, because technology is on their side. Their mobile phones, for instance, are rich alternative news sources. They also go online and turn to sites whose news content is customized to suit their preferences. Out there, news is available on demand.
Today’s viewers don’t just consume news. They also want to contribute to a news story or be in the news themselves. And all it takes is a mobile phone camera or a computer to upload images and stories for mass distribution. This mutated form of reportage we call Citizen Journalism-- and its disciples, citizen journalists.
ABS-CBN Zamboanga journalist David Santos welcomes the citizen journalist whom he hopes would compliment his work as a TV reporter. Santos finds the feedback mechanism of new media and citizen journalists useful in feeling public pulse. “The future of journalism would be more dynamic with the public getting more involved in what they would like to see, read, or hear from media,” Santos added.
Citizen journalism evolved as people gained technology to access news, react or even contribute fresh information via SMS, email, or leave comments in social sites, which are now as potent as traditional media in sharing information or forming public opinion.
Yet some journalists remain wary of the new media in particular, and citizen journalists in general. ABS-CBN Bicol News Head Aireen Perol-Jaymalin, for instance, still treats them as competition as they lure the younger audience away from traditional news media. “The new generation is so into social networking and we have to keep up with them.”
But like Santos, Jaymalin sees a point where a critical alliance between traditional and citizen journalists can exist. “They can be a helpful newsgathering tool,” Jaymalin said.
News organizations find it unwise to compete with citizen journalists, since they know that network resources – no matter how immense - are no match to the reach and clout of the omnipresent public. Of late, news organizations started recognizing them as allies. CNN’s “iReport” is a manifestation of traditional news media’s recognition of the power of citizen journalists.
The ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs adheres to the same belief as it launched its own culture change campaign using new media. Boto Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako Ang Simula, a movement for clean and honest elections, engages citizen journalists or “Boto Patrollers” to contribute stories on election fraud using their phones or the Internet.
To date, at least 60,000 citizen journalists have signed up as Boto Patrollers nationwide. ABS-CBN Northern Mindanao journalist Art Bonjoc sees this as an indication that more Filipinos want a hand in changing the country or the way it is run.
Citizen journalists also challenge traditional media to do a better job. “The time has come for journalists to even stop believing we are the only ones who can be journalists because of our training, experience or influence,” according to Bonjoc.
Citizen journalism and new media have in fact pushed TV, radio and print news organizations to conquer the Internet by creating online sites to stay connected with consumers (as they move to new media) and ensure the survival of traditional media stakeholders.
But what happens to the journalists? Where do they fit in this not-so-futuristic picture? Are reporters being pushed to extinction?
In the view of ABS-CBN Cebu journalist Mary Ann Uy, the relationship between professional and citizen journalists must not be adversarial, rather it must be symbiotic. “Eventually the contribution of citizen journalists to mainstream media will improve the news business, as professionals can use the citizen journalist’s work while giving it much-needed form and substance,” Uy said.
“I think a deluge of information from citizen journalists will (still) not mean much unless these are put in proper context. And only a skillful reporter can give perspective where it is most needed. It is now our job to sift, verify and weave citizen journalists’ information into tales that touch lives. Because it is a real journalist’s job to put heart into raw information – a skill no new media can outdo.”
Citizens can contribute to a news story with the wealth of information they can produce in real time. But a journalist, the true (and rare) artist behind any masterful storytelling, is all the more essential -- as of press time.