It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Citizen journalism!

In the iconic comic-book and television action series of Superman, when ordinary people in the street looked up at the sky and mistook Superman for a bird or a plane, citizen journalism took place.

People were reporting what they saw. They did not check their facts or find a credible source to verify these facts – they just exclaimed in excitement and shock what they thought they were seeing. This is the simplest form of citizen journalism – reporting what you see.

In the digital world, it has been the easiest thing to report what you see around you. A person with a smartphone, tablet, camera, etc. can take a video or snap a picture of an event, and instantly post it to various social media sites. By sharing their observations, citizens can create and distribute news on a global scale – something that was usually left for professional journalists.

What is citizen journalism exactly?

According to online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, citizen journalism is based upon public citizens “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information.” The audience thus takes on the role of the journalist in order to report news quickly; on the scene and write, record or take a picture of what they see as it happens. I’m pretty sure “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s Superman!” would have made a great headline for a citizen journo writing a story about spotting Superman for the first time.

Citizen journalism holds many benefits for society. Journalists cannot always be everywhere to report all newsworthy events, and sometimes they will only arrive at the scene when the news has passed, thus missing the scoop. In many cases, journalists are banned from reporting in war zones, like the recent Sirnak terror attack in Turkey. It is in such cases that citizen journalists become the only ones with access to what is happening on the ground. If done correctly, the stories filed by citizen journos can be used by journalists or mainstream traditional media to base their reports on.

Although citizen journalism holds many advantages, it is a flawed concept. Citizen journos are not trained, professional or experienced journalists. They rarely have any affiliation to any publication, and thus need not abide by any standards of traditional reporting. A story that a citizen journo publishes, can very easily be bias and one sided. Sometimes the story happens to be written without any external sources or verification of facts, which can cause various problems. Even though it took three tries for the people to correctly identify Superman, citizen journalism can be done correctly, proficiently and add value to society. Those who do it must just get it right the first time.

It is thus of absolute importance that citizen journalism be monitored and checked before it is published. Citizen journos need to understand what it means to be a journalist – to report fairly and accurately, and to contribute positively to the community.

Does South African media care about citizen journalism?

In my opinion, South African media does not care enough about citizen journalism, and it needs to make more space for it. Back in 2005 the website was launched, which publishes citizen journalist’s news stories, but the website failed. More recently, in 2014 a citizen journalism project was launched by the partnership  Making all voices Count and Health E-news with the aim to put the spotlight on public health services in South Africa. It has played a successful role in promoting citizen journalism

Currently, there are very little platfroms for citizen journalism in SA to flourish. New opportunities and platforms need to be created specifically for citizen journos, in order for the practice to grow and become part of daily South African media. Only then will citizen journalism feel the love of the South African media.

The thing about citizen journalism is that it is ever changing. As technological tools become better, and more people gain access to these tools, more citizen journos will pop up, from every corner of the country, and the world.

Citizen journalism is the future of journalism, and people better get used to it. As Ted Conley said at a TEDxMidAtlantic talk, “It’s not going to be Anderson Cooper forever.”



Citizen journalists doing what they do best. Source:









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