What is citizen media and why are mobile phones being used to do it?

26 posts / 0 new
Last post
What is citizen media and why are mobile phones being used to do it?

To spark ideas for comments in this discussion thread, consider the following questions:

  • What is citizen media?  
  • Why are mobile phones being used to carry out citizen media efforts? 
  • How can citizen media play an important role in the protection of human rights? 
  • How do you see citizen media in the larger media context?

Share your thoughts, ideas and stories to this discussion thread by adding your comments below, or responding to existing comments.

A definition of citizen media?

First of all, I'm quite excited about this dialogue! And happy to be the first one to post a comment. I look forward to all of your comments and questions. I think one the best things about citizen journalism is that it is nearly impossible to define. It comes in so many forms -- be it the type of platform (social media, web, mobile phone), type (audio reports, video reports, SMS) and purpose (comments, suggestions and feedback, story tips, complete broadcasts). That said, how do YOU define citizen journalism, based on your own experiences and uses of citizen reporting?

Citizen media offline

Hi Melissa!

Thanks for kicking off the discussion, I'm really looking forward to taking part in this forum too! I agree that although its difficult to define citizen journalism, these kinds of questions are a good place to start! To reflect on the context I have been working on, it has been interesting to share ideas with community radio stations about the changing conception of the role of their ‘audience.’  Radio may typically have been a one-to-many broadcast medium, however stations are ever increasing the opportunities for their audiences to be engaged as they are invited to create, contribute to or challenge the media. We’ve heard of many examples where people act as the eyes of the community and use their mobiles to send news reports or tips to radio stations which are then shared on-air or in some case by the radio’s journalists who may go to the scene. 

I am coming to understand citizen media to begin when individuals feel compelled to share or report information which might not otherwise enter the public domain and use the media as a tool so that communities are enabled to contribute and participate in discussions which affect them. I think this raises the question about interaction between “citizen” and formal media– as the later seeks verification before reporting. In the case I mentioned, radio stations control the channel through which media content reaches others and are accountable for information which they share. 
I read somewhere that "the main feature of citizen journalism is that it's usually found online" and "the internet is what has made citizen journalism possible."  I suppose that being part of a “twitter” generation which blogs and comments on news stories it might be easy to understand this assertion.  But what I’m most interested in is how citizens take part in the media if they are not online and don’t necessarily have the luxury of participating in a matter of clicks.

Being so ubiquitous, I think discussing mobile is so interesting because the tool is already in peoples' hands. As you say, mobile can mean so many different things, whether its using SMS, MMS, sharing videos, voice recordings or calls - and of course accessing the internet - all of which play a role in different contexts.  I’m particularly interested to hear more about ways people have contributed to the media without necessarily being online.


Amy \~/

Defining Citizen Media

Great way to frame the discussion, Amy. I think you are right when you say that it is the ubiquity of the tool that makes it so interesting. I think that intentionality in the citizen media sphere is another important thing to consider when trying to understand the role of mobile phones in the shifting media landscape.

1. Because of the ubiquity of mobile phones, there is a lot more documentation and data capture. But like vacationers that record every moment of their vacation from door to door, but throw the tapes in drawers when they get home, documentation does not mean the creation of "media."

2. Citizen media does not necessarily mean that the person that documented the event is the same one that packages and disseminates the media. Given that citizens are recording events like never before with the help of mobile phones, sophisticated chains of media production have developed around refining this information. A citizen records something on his or her phone and passes it off to what I'll call a media aggregator -- someone who finds it particularly important to collect all of this documentation -- who then coordinates or supports the creation of citizen media around the information collected. This has also been incorporated into the models of professional journalists who find the on-the-ground activsts or citizen documenters, collect their information, give them credit for the footage (sometimes), repackage the content, and use their existing networks to spread the media far and wide. 

3. I think that the citizen media we are discussing here is produced by the one-stop-shop citizen journalists that capture content, package it for consumption by others, and build networks for dissemination.

Looking forward to hearing more thoughts about how to define citizen media, if we should use phrases like citizen journalist, and how individuals define their own work.


Alix Dunn, researcher @  the engine room   www.engineroom.no




Alternative Ways to Share Stories

Rising Voices is the outreach arm of Global Voices Online, the global network of bloggers that reports on what is happening in blogospheres all over the world. Since RV's creation in 2007, we have supported 27 small-scale citizen media outreach projects that teach others in underrepresented communities how to use these digital tools for a wide range of purposes. Most of the projects teach 'traditional' forms of citizen media in the form of blogs and digital photography/video that are able to be uploaded to the internet. Here the new bloggers soon discover that it is possible to share their own stories, and connect with audiences on a local and global level.

Over the course of the life of the 27 citizen media projects, retention of these new creators of citizen media remains a common concern. From personal experience running projects in Bolivia, access to the internet still is concerned a luxury in many of these communities. While internet cafes continue to appear on more and more street corners in the cities, the relative cost for the average Bolivian is much too high to engage in an activity that is considered a hobby for most. This is in addition to the fact that Bolivia's internet connection is the slowest and the most expensive in Latin America. The situation in Bolivia is quite similar to many of the countries in which Rising Voices works.

However, one of our recent grantee projects called Ségou Villages Connection proposed using mobile phones to collect information and updates from Malians living in the rural villages of the Ségou region. Many of their fellow villagers had migrated to the capital city of Bamako, and the project seeks to help them feel better connected to their homes through these user-created updates. These rural villages often lack potable water and reliable electricity, so it goes without saying that access to the internet is also very difficult.

Boukary Konaté, who is running the Ségou project, wants to take advantage of the fact that many rural residents do have mobile phones and that they can send their updates via SMS. While the project is still in early stages, the use of mobile phones may help adapt to the lack of regular internet access, but the costs per SMS still remains relatively high. And Boukary understands that these SMS messages can reach audiences in Mali and around the world by publication on the project blog [fr]. However, there is still the challenge of allowing these messages to retain the participatory and two-way communication model that blogs and other forms of citizen media is best known for.

Again, in my experience working with groups across Bolivia and immigrant communities in the United States, the process of discovering how relatively easy creating one's own citizen media is equally as valuable as the content. I believe it transforms their outlook that media and information are not only the possessions of the privileged or powerful, but that the citizen can play a role in determining how they are represented online.

It is those discovery moments when someone sees what they have written, photographed, or created is now available to the entire world that demonstrate the power of citizen media. It is also a reminder that many places in the world are far behind in terms of internet accessibility. Most often than not, it is the result of public and corporate policies and strategies that the people on the street believe that they very little power to change. However, there are ways to explore alternatives, such as the use of the mobile phone to help encourage those in underrepresented communities to share their stories and contribute with information.

The power of the process and of hearing one's own voice

risingvoices wrote:

Again, in my experience working with groups across Bolivia and immigrant communities in the United States, the process of discovering how relatively easy creating one's own citizen media is equally as valuable as the content. I believe it transforms their outlook that media and information are not only the possessions of the privileged or powerful, but that the citizen can play a role in determining how they are represented online.

Well said, Eddie!  Your comment reminded me so much of a comment that was posted by a participant in another dialogue over a year ago.  That dialogue was on the topic Using Radio to Empower and Engage.  Here is Michael's comment that reinforces your comment about the power of the process and of hearing one's own voice:

michaelbosse wrote:

Hi everyone - this is Michael Bosse from Equal Access (www.equalaccess.org). We use local and community radio as part of our programming in a range of counrties in Africa and Asia. After working in this field for ten years, I've really come to appreciate that there is something special, a kind of magic ability to empower and mobilise that comes from sharing the ability to have your voice heard in the media with communities that for too long might have been excluded from decision making in their societies. It seems so simple, but I've seen over and over again, in so many contexts, that this is the key to positive social change in many communities.

I would like to share an excerpt from an article written with my colleagues, Gemma Quilt and Jaya Luintel about Equal Access' work in Nepal. We train local people (Community Reporters) to use digital audio recorders and create their own radio programming for broadcast locally and nationally.

"For the first time then, it seems that many of these community members feel an ownership of the radio and its content and also an understanding of the power expression and access to the public sphere to create social change.  It is no longer an external medium controlled by unseen intermediaries, but an integral part of the community, with a face that they recognize and voices that echo their own.  One reporter even described how a woman in her village had curbed her husband's drinking by declaring to him "if you don't stop drinking, I will speak to the Community Reporter, then all of Nepal will know your story".  In terms of approaches to development and citizen participation, this change in attitude towards the role of media and radio is critical.  Empowered with the 'power of voice' Community Reporters and the communities they live in will not only seek to speak truth to power but will also use their voice to bring about social change in their communities.  Not only is the Community Reporter able to promote the so called 'voices of the voiceless', but having reporters who come from within the community, rather than outside, ensures the community is engaged in the radio program and its agenda for encouraging social change.  As described by community members in Nepalganj, Community Reporter's like Naina, Nisha and Apsara are able to encourage the often difficult transition from listening to participation and action: "We always use[d] to listen to the musical programs in radio. But it was Apsara-aunt (Community Reporter) who came to us and helped us form a (listener) group. This radio program helped us to know different issues….(and) encouraged us to do something in the community" (Community Member in Nepalganj where Apsara is the Community Reporter)."

Defining Citizen Media


I like your distinction between the packaging & distribution of media. How do you see this distinction developing, and perhaps impacting the interaction between those collecting information on the ground, and the "formal media" that is aggregating and re-packing (and often analyzing) this information? 

Re: your question on using the term "citizen journalist", personally, I think we should make sure the term "journalist" is used sparingly. For me, the term "journalist" (even when citizen precedes it) implies objectivity, fact-checking, and some level of trust. What is captured by people on the ground via available technologies is not necessarily journalism, nor should these people be seen as sources of verified information - they are simply distributing what they see. Many of them don't even claim to be journalists - they simply want to get the word out when the eyes of the world are missing something (or the "formal" media is not present).

I would love to hear other people's take on this! I haven't been on the ground when these technologies are being used - I have been more on the consumer side of citizen media. 

Really excited about this conversation!

Citizen Editors?

Thanks for the thoughtful response Emily! I think given the rapid development of platforms that host lots of small bits of on-the-ground information (I am thinking micro-blogging, and social media status updates as examples) there is an increasing need for people that spend their days (and nights) sifting through the information cascade. These new editors use personal lenses to filter content and, as they develop popularity, become one-stop-shops for synthesized and (ideally) accurate content about a given event. An excellent example of this type of curation is Andy Carvin (@acarvin). He spent (and still spends) day and night sifting through tweets around specific events, most notably contry level conflicts and uprisings in the Middle East this spring. He also managed to harness his large networks to provide a crowdsourced fact checking system. This informal editorial structure supports citizen journalists that do not have the resources, desire, or time to package their own content, but ensures that their content will be viewed by those looking for information about a particular event.

With mobile media, particularly in countries where SMS to tweet functionality has been discontinued, citizens documenting events use more social networks (like Facebook) to broadcast content. It is much more difficult to aggregate content on sites like these, but I think there still exist people that function as hubs of information. They spend their days and nights curating content and distributing links on their Facebook pages and in Facebook groups.

Perhaps then we can open up a discussion about what a citizen editor is?

Alix Dunn, researcher   @ the engine room   www.engineroom.no

Citizen V. Formal media


I'm glad you brought up this distinction between "citizen" and "formal" media. Recently, @Changemakers hosted a #socentchat on Twitter discussing citizen media, and one of the debates that emerged was around this issue. It triggered questions around trust, transparency, and the tensions between content creation and dissemination.

My take on citizen media definitions is centered around the assumption that REPORTING and JOURNALISM are distinct. Technology (especially mobile technologies) are enabling people on the ground, and at the scene of emerging events and crises, to capture and distribute information... but that this action and ability don't necessarily make that person a "journalist", per se. We have seen citizen journalists develop as credible and trusted sources of information in the online space, but I am really interested to hear about how this is developing via mobile communications. Is mobile tied directly to content being distributed via the internet, or are systems developing in which news/information is being distributed strictly via mobile? 

What is Journalism?


I think its dangerous to make distinctions thusly, rather than looking at the "intent" of the content creator.

Some would use your framing to say that MSNBC, or Fox, or even the BBC are not journalists by virtue of not liking their content.

At SWN we've taken to saying anyone who walks out their door with the intent to document and event and spread it to the world, with a focus on accuracy, is a journalist.

This is distinguished from a "citizen journalist" or "citizen mediamaker" who by virtue of access to technology and place, may record an event at any moment and share it with the world, but without the specific goal of recording and distributing accurate researched content.

I would go into more detail, but later, battery about to die!


Mobile Networks


EmilyTav wrote:

Is mobile tied directly to content being distributed via the internet, or are systems developing in which news/information is being distributed strictly via mobile? 

I think you highlight that the channel through which information is shared is crucial for this whole discussion. While mobiles improve access in virtue of the fact that they are already in people's hands and the benefits of one mobile handset can be shared with many; the problem remains that if this is their only method to input, it could also be their method of receiving feedback. If people use SMS for instance, it might be because they can't access the internet, in which case content distributed via the internet may not ever feedback to them directly. Of course content from a mobile distributed via the internet contributes to media in some ways, but what is the incentive for people to continue  to contribute (maybe even at cost to themselves) if they never see the results or reactions from others?

 In the other alternative you propose: I'm imagining my twitter feed came through to my phone in texts which cost someone to forward on to me, let alone each person in a group: so its the cost of mobile sharing which is a major barrier. Not only that but how someone can cope with receiving information on a basic handset where each SMS may be seperate, following different threads and quickly fill up their inbox (On my old handset I used to have to delete all messages after I received 20 messages!). As Melissa said often there is a problem of too many interested people and the bigger a network grows, the more expensive it is to communicate with everyone in it. 

In my opinion, a mobile system is not sufficient to consitiute "media" because I can only see SMS news feeds operating within a limited group. For me, its not one or the other of these options, rather  its more about how networks of people connected by mobile operate to influence other, formal media channels. I suppose this is why radio as an example interests me so much because it is a widespread media and the audience can influence the content using their mobile and listen in for free for feedback. 

Defining Citizen Media

I agree with Melissa that  citizen media is almost impossible to define.My definition would be a  type of media that engages the masses and discusses issues affecting the masses at a given time and also gives  listens to the views of the masses

Why mobile phones are used in citizen media

My views are that  mobile phones are cheap and the cost of sending an sms has gone down,this facilitates affordability.Furthermore, one message can be sent to several people just by clicking on their names.

The mobile phone has revolutionized communication making it more effective.Pictures can be shared through the phone , this makes  the communication more effective

Using mobiles phones to send one message to many people

Leonida wrote:

My views are that  mobile phones are cheap and the cost of sending an sms has gone down,this facilitates affordability. Furthermore, one message can be sent to several people just by clicking on their names.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on why mobile phones are such a great tool for citizen media!  A really great tool for sending out one text message to many people is called FrontlineSMS.  Amy mentions this tool in her post about the Segou Villages in Mali.  How have you used mobile phones as a human rights defender and as a citizen?  Thanks, Leonida!

Using a mobile phone to send one message to multiple people

Hello Kantin


To respond to your question, I have only used the mobile phone as a mobilization tool  for communty awareness.This  is a great discussion topic and there is a lot I expect to learn a lot.


An exciting  and informative dialogue!


Leonida Odongo

Social Media Technology and Citizen "Mobile" Action

I agree with the sentiment of everyone joined in dialogue. Citizen journalism is as complex to define as culture itself. As a human rights activist who happens to be a news writer utilizing social media and digital technology for social change, I feel that it is my civil duty to maintain ethical practices in researching, gathering, and presenting information. The following is a suggestion for using mobile and digital technology, inclusive of the fist of a four series webinar facilitated by Ms. Nancy Pearson: Following the theme of preventative tactics in the exploration of tested tactics for preventing human rights abuse. This is an idea for reporting systems and information exchange tactics by uploading information to a secure “outside source” server monitored by third party humanitarian agencies or NGO's.

Citizens cultivating change can upload their statuses, photos, etc. to Facebook or other social media sites, particularly the sites hosted by sponsor organizations that provide private profile journals. Such strategies serve as a transparent means of getting critical information into the hands of people who can prevent abuse, including local and international support systems. Immediately after transmission or upload of any information, all texts, photos, and posts should be deleted from the mobile device in order to ensure the safety of the human rights practitioners.

The development of mobile applications would allow government, citizen groups, and NGO's to create customized information ports that will constantly run in the background of smart phone applications as an added security precaution. For accessibility purposes, a widget shortcut will appear on the homepage of the smart phone touchscreen. Updates in news, strategies, policy, and government and agency tactics will appear as headlines ( TABS- for additional information such as contact, or emergency concerns) on both the phone app and the website home page.

Citizen Media: Replacing or Supporting Traditional Media?

I'm going to take on the fourth question posed above [How do you see citizen media in the larger media context?] in a way that will (I hope) provoke a little disagreement. Basically, I'm going to argue that citizen media (particularly mobile-based citizen media) is best understood as a tool to support, enhance and improve our traditional media (whether TV, radio, newspapers [online or offline] etc.), but not to replace those institutions.

We still need professional journalists. In fact, in today's world, we need them more than ever. In taking on corruption and human rights abuses, in covering war, violence or political upheaval, we depend on having sources of news that we know, and that we know we can trust. Sure, if I get a message from my friend in Tahrir Square telling me what's happening, I believe his account. But you've never heard his name, and for all you know, he might be a government plant or a radical extremist. And If I'm the only one who can be sure of what's going on, well, that's not media, and nothing will change.

On the other hand, if my friend can tell his story to a professional journalist, and that journalist trusts him enough to put it in a newspaper read and trusted by millions, then you have the beginnings of change.  Now, I know that we can't always believe everything our traditional media outlets tell us.  But to my mind, Jayson Blair and his ilk are the rare exceptions that help prove the rule.

Of course, the scenario I just described is no different from how news stories were sourced in the past-- a journalist talking to a trusted source. And I do believe mobile-based citizen media can have a greatly positive effect on newsgathering in several distinct ways:

  • Photos & Videos: Often times, a citizen on the inside of a conflict, a protest or a scandal has a unique perspective and can capture an image or a video that would otherwise go unseen. Or maybe an average person just happens to be at the right place at the right time. And while photos and videos don't always tell a complete story, and can be doctored, they provide evidence that is much harder to refute than written words. With the proliferation of high-quality cell phone cameras into the pockets of more and more people on earth-- and with equally widespread video just around the corner-- everyone can document their world with the click of a button. This is maybe the single greatest impact of mobile technology on media.

  • Volume: While a short text message from an unknown source might not be compelling evidence, ten thousand such messages are harder to refute. Twitter is the perfect case study of this. A flood of tweets coming from a variety of people all witnessing the same things can help capture the attention of the outside world and bring important events to life in a citizen-to-citizen fashion.
  • Anonymity: To paraphrase the oft-cited old New Yorker cartoon-- "On the internet, nobody knows you're a citizen journalist." If you wanted to anonymously tip off the Washington Post in 1970, you had to leave a package of documents outside their front door in the middle of the night, or meet discreetly with a journalist and hope that nobody saw you together. While the security of mobile phones is weak, and anonymity is very difficult to guarantee, there are myriad new ways to tell your story without your true identity ever surfacing.

  • Speed: On April 7, 1994, the Rwandan genocide began. One hundred days later, 800,000 people were dead, and yet most of the world still didn't really understand what was happening-- despite the fact that many elites within the UN, the US government and elsewhere did know more or less exactly what was going on as they stood idly by. In today's world, with half of the Rwandan population armed with a mobile phone, it's almost impossible to imagine something like this happening. The story of the genocide would be told in real time to a global audience, in words, pictures, and video, and the resulting outrage would (I'd like to think) compel international powers to action.

All these cases are powerful ways the mobile phone can improve our media. But none of them can realize their full impact without the support of traditional media to distil and broadcast. A citizen's photo of a protest needs an outlet. Thousands of tweets about ethnic violence need to be combed through, sourced and verified. The anonymous informant needs a trusted news source to inform. And real-time story telling only works if somebody is listening who can make that story heard around the world.

I haven't really taken on the impact of blogs, because they're not really a mobile medium.  I also haven't addressed Global Voices-- perhaps the most formidable citizen news outlet-- because they, too, are not primarily mobile-based, and because they are so well-known and widely-trusted that they almost cease to be "citizen" media. But it's a start.

Hope this will kick off a little debate.  What do you think?

Attention economy and the impact of citizen media

Sorry to undermine your attempt to be contentious Sam, but I largely agree with you point that citizen media provides content that is complementary to the professional field of journalism. Given the limitations of the attention economy, full scale staff working to design platforms, coordinate outreach for publications, and keep viewers viewing are necessary. This model even exists in the world of blogs where very few sites drive viewers content consumption and many of those blogs have been effectively monetized and are now run by "professionals." The advantage of citizen media in this paradigm is that agenda setting becomes, to a certain extent, democratized. Before the widespread use of mobile phones and other inexpensive tools for documentation, editorial discretion largely defined when and where the professionals were deployed, and thereby what was news. The power of citizen media lies in it's impact on the agendas of major media outlets, but requires those same media outlets (in most cases) to provide the infrastructure for viewer/readership.

Alix Dunn, researcher @ the engine room - www.engieneroom.no

Influential citizen networks

I can see that a clear distinction lies between what Darren has said about loading information to Facebook or online news forums where others can see exactly what someone has written and comments are not subject to any manipulation (and can be publically questioned) in contrast to the way mobiles are used to spread information.

I am trying to conceptualise how, without the internet, text messages for example could be read in such an accessible and open way.  Russel posted an interesting concept on the tools page about how Cel.ly can disseminate text messages to groups of people in a "twitter-like" stream with purely user generated content and we know that FrontlineSMS has been used for similar  reasons too where users create a community and circulate texts to a small group. (Whether this is strictly "media" is open for debate especially since the interrelationship is between a closed group and the costs of redistributing could be significantly high as it scales). Alternatively SMS could push content to the internet through http triggers, but this still doesn’t resolve the problem of content which is one-way and excludes people like in RisingVoices’ Bolivia example. Otherwise I can’t think how SMS could be read in a way resembling an online comment – anyone else?

Since the dissemination - as so many people have said- relies so much on other channels, it must be considered who is receiving and manipulating incoming data. As Alix says: formal outlets are packaging information, but how is any bias identified? If citizens want to challenge media which is perhaps read out on the radio, the station could easily ignore certain messages. Or a comment sent via text which is not in line with a DJs views could be cast aside and that opinion never influences the media. They can even censor the callers they decide to put on-air.

Is the important question "how can media platforms be better designed / made more accountable for sharing community views" or is it more important to consider "how can more influential citizen networks be built"?

I certainly agree citizen media is most powerful To add to the idea about enhancing and complementing the traditional media,. I heard from Faith at CNN (twitter @faithcnn) about how social media offers them information on the situation on the ground when no other news source is available and they follow an intricate process of verifying both by volume and also by checking photos and videos for any manipulation. (The “volume” method of verification which Sam made is one we have seen at radio stations – often its not until they receive 3 or more similar reports that they invest in a journalist to go.) I think that it is by offering tip offs from citizens and communities that the media is opened to stories they would never know about. I'm inclided to agree with Alix (I think) that this is about how citizens can democratically draw attention to issues which concern them and this is how they can impact the coverage. 

A Contentious(?) Distinction

Hi Sam (et. al),

Solid post.  Let's see if I can't stoke the debate a little further:  One of the distinctions that I'd like to draw regarding the role of traditional media, and the value that it brings to its relationship with citizen media, is about the size of its platform, as opposed to its relative trustworthiness. Essentially, if, as Sam says, the role of citizen media (esp. via mobile) is to complement and support traditional media (which seems short-sighted), then the reason for that is that (at present) traditional media has a substantially larger voice than most  non-traditional platforms. 

I should start by admitting a little bias: I come from the United States and majored in journalism in college (perhaps ironically, the same school Blair dropped out of), which means that I was largely brought up with the traditional conceptions and ideals of journalistic objectivity.  I had the proud traditions of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite to aspire to.  Most of which, given our domestic media landscape, have struggled to survive and been largely replaced, in my preferences, with hopes for radical transparency. My point here, however, is not to slam American journalism, but rather to point out what I believe to be a (largely Western) difference in expectations/perceptions about the role of media. In many parts of the world, where there have never been iconically measured, independent journalists, there has never been the presumption of independent media.

If you accept that (and maybe you don't), then citizen journalism, like any of the media platforms, is one source of data, to be compared and contrasted with all the others.  This is the way that I understand how most media is consumed around the world, as part of a constellation of information, which is synthesized/analyzed by the individual.  The relative weight assigned to each source of information is a personal (and HIGHLY contextualized) choice.  Given how personal these decisions and contexts are (not to wander too deep into the Filter Bubble), it's not really for us to decide roles, but rather methods of presentation. As Sam very astutely notes, there are a number of advantages to mobile's role in facilitating citizen media, but its role, relative to mainstream journalism (perhaps controversially), is more about the costs and logistics of distribution than they are about relative credibility.

Building on Sam's point, though, I'd be curious to get more of an idea from this community about interesting ways that citizen journalism is being integrated into the presentation of mainstream media.  As many have noted, it's often used as a data, resource allocation, illustration, or verification resource for traditional forms of broadcast.  But what ways are we seeing traditional formats move toward citizen media to include the voice of the masses with those consulted by the reporter before publication?

Immediately jumping to mind, there are lots of ways that SMS is being used in radio to do things like drive content, engage audience interests, and real-time polls, among others.  Other examples within mobile contexts are web content comment blocks, brief highlights of individual pieces of content (videos, photos, etc.), SMS headlines, MMS content distribution, or web-based data visualizations. 

What are the ways that we can go further to use citizen media to both improve the quality of traditional media (whether that's citizen editing or affirmation of individual contentions using aggregated data or somethng else entirely)?  If we assume that acceptable data processing/analysis processes are used before mass publication (which is, admittedly, a big assumption), whether through institutional platforms or individual citizen media who carefully curate information (a la O'Reilly's Alex Howard or NPR's Andy Carvin), then what are the ways that this community would like to see citizen and traditional media to affect each other's presentation formats?  How would new formats, which included both types of information gathering, alter our perceptions about the relative role of citizen media?

My guess is that mobile reporting and broadcasting, by virtue of its ubiquity, will do more to drive the integration of citizen and traditional reporting structures, and that professionalization (past a certain threshold) becomes part of what becomes a significantly more complicated editorial data processing method. Thoughts?

Citizen Media Replacing or Supporting Traditional Media


I agree with Sam's views on complementary role of the mobile phones , I would like to add that despite seeing the same scenario, people will interpret it differently based on their personal experience, state of mind at that moment , whether they  are supportive of what is happening or not , and this is bound to  bring about some biases.




"Citizen Media" playing a role on the streets of Benghazi & Zint

How can citizen media play an important role in the protection of human rights?

At the moment, I'm sitting in the lobby of the Uzu Hotel in Benghazi Libya. I've been in Libya for nearly a month on a follow-up trip working with the team of young Libyan journalists I began training back in March who run the Alive in Libya project: http://alive.in/libya

At the moment this question is particularly important to them, and to others in Libya. I'm not sure what the definition of "citizen media" should be, as opposed to "media" or "journalism." To my mind the team here are journalists as much as the "foreign press" present in Libya. However, there is no doubt that something called "citizen media" has played a huge role in the promotion of events in Libya to the world.

Libyans were avidly sharing mobile phone videos of street battles, the seizing of the much-hated "Khatiba" or local garrison in Benghazi, and photos purportedly of "mercenaries" killed by rebel fighters. It was hard to pass a night in this very hotel back in March without someone offering to share a video with you, impossible to get away without at least a rebel anthem mp3 or remix of a Gaddafi speech.

As an agitator for media democracy and avid promoter of technology and its possibilities, all of this was heartening. As an organizer and trainer working to increase the accessibility and plurality of voices in the global media, I recognized the opportunity but also the need for training, coordinating, and honing the skills of individuals who will hopefully help build the future of Libya's 4th Estate.

Through training of local producers, or the aggregation/curation of untrained voices by individuals with an eye toward accuracy and fact-checking, much can be done to support the spread of human rights here. Libya still has a long way to go to build a vibrant, trusted 4th estate. Not least of this is encouraging the TNC to recognize the need for transparency and a strong critical press in order to build the strongest, best democracy Libya can aspire to.

The voices of citizens unafraid and unwilling to be silenced need to be spread broadly in Libya. The reconnection of the mobile network and work to restore internet access in the east and Misrata are big first steps. I'm hopeful individuals reading this post and others will begin to ask how they can be of assistance and take steps to encourage Libyans to improve themselves and demand strength and bravery from each other as they build a new press.

The response locally to things such as a recent Human Rights Watch report condemning rebel violations, and the assertions that there are no major issues within the opposition, despite the execution of the leader of the opposition military, are clear signs that we have a ways to go. Hopefully the tide of citizen media will continue, but I doubt it will be broad or deep enough to assist in building a vibrant democratic space without further support and nurturing from allies abroad.



Citizen Media meeting Mainstream Media

Hi Everyone,

This is a great forum and some really interesting ideas and projects have been discussed.

I'm working at Al Jazeera in the mobile team. In Al Jazeera we have been able to integrate citizen content into our mainstream coverage and this is something that is becoming more and more important in our news gathering. A great deal of our coverage of the Arab Spring depended on and was integrated with social media networks found on twitter, facebook and with popular blogs and activists. 

Personally I believe that the beauty of the mobile phone is that it enables communication with those who have little access to such online tools and platforms. We are looking into ways that we can feed in the stories, insights and media from these citizens and build a bridge between communities that are offline, perhaps off-grid and our Al Jazeera news teams. 

As it stands we are looking at working with 2 groups of citizen media providers. Firstly citizen reporters, individuals who send in basic SMS text or phone in recordings. This media is unverified, without context and the reporters are unknown and without any training. The second group of people could be called citizen journalists, they have worked with NGOs and activists they are known on a face to face basis and they have be trained up with media skills and in issues of bias and ethics in media. The first group would be valuable in a context of "volume" the value of which has already been mentioned, the second group would be used to elaborate the issues and developing stories raised by the first.

A few questions I have are:

-Should this be editorially driven, shaping the topics and conversations we want from citizens or does it work better to leave the floor open for any topics to come up?

-How do we keep these citizen reporters in the loop so that once they have contributed material they can follow the issues developing and any Al Jazeera coverage that may stem from it? 

I'll be asking other questions in the tools and resources strand.


Response to Cynara

What a fascinating discussion! It is so exciting to hear so many perspectives.

I'd like to respond to Cynara's question:  "Should this be editorially driven, shaping the topics and conversations we want from citizens or does it work better to leave the floor open for any topics to come up?"

In my opinion, a combination of both ways would be best! By suggesting topics or shaping the conversation, new ideas and topics can easily arise.  

Citizen media to help shape radio programming

Thanks for the comments, Audreyp and Cynara!

I agree that citizen media submission via mobile can help shape topics and conversation. Many community radio stations, for example, integreate mobile tech to allow listeners to contribute content, remark on ongoing topics or stories, or share news tips. Mobile phones can be used as a tool to foster participation and engage people in dialogue. One example that comes to mind is Voices of Youth in Nepal, a project that allows young listeners to participate in a popular radio program, Saathi Sanga Man Ka Kura, which means "chatting with my best friend". Every week, the radio station frames a question and invites youth to respond via a free SMS to a short code. Responses are posted on a Voices of Youth website, and the responses also help shape future conversations on the station.

In this example, I see mobiles playing two roles. By allowing the actual listeners to react to the weekly question, the radio station can better gauge which topics are of importance, which questions garner the liveliest feedback or greatest number of repsones. In this way, the station can better shape or produce future segments that speak to important issues facing youth in the area. And second, I see mobiles as a way to solidify in listeners that the radio station is listening and reacting to their comments and queries.

The SMS comments that are posted online also contribute to a platform in which youth can discuss and share with peers.

Thanks for the fascinating dialogue, all!

More radio interaction examples

Really enjoying this thread started by Cynara about how citizens can shape media content. I agree with Audrey that both suggesting topics and allowing open floor discussion are both powerful tools. Melissa, you added a great example about the participatory youth programme in Nepal and I just wanted to share some more.

We heard about an example of an agricultural advice radio programme in Kenya where farmers started reporting an unknown disease wiping out entire flocks of indigenous chickens by sending in SMS and MMS to the programme organisor. By sharing the SMS input over the radio waves, more farmers were inspired to add more evidence. The producer invited an expert and an MP onto the programme to be interviewed and consider the information which had been gathered over a number of weeks. The community discovered the cause was Newcastle Disease and the station was able to offer information about vaccination schedules. At Radio Mudzi Wathu in Malawi, they also take listener questions to health officials and MPs about topical issues affecting them. 

At Breeze FM in Kenya, the community share news tips by texting in using keywords and journalists are then dispatched to the scene - meaning the station has eyes in places they otherwise wouldn't . They also have a programme called "Issue of the Day" where the topic is chosen by the listeners and different arguments are sent in via SMS and then read out on air. In Indonesia where the Dayak community are facing threats from oil palm plantations and mining activities, there is a project partnered with RuaiTV which trains citizen journalists on how to write short information (the longest is in four sentences) and send the information with their phone to a certain number via SMS. 

In contrast to this qualitative information, radio stations we work with also conduct quantitative polls using keywords via SMS to feedback on content or ask people to vote on relevant issues in current affairs. In this way, they can gauge the opinions of their wider audience, reaching more people and can then share percentage votes. (We are currently building automated visualisation for ease of use for live-on-air interaction...coming soon in FrontlineSMS:Version 2!). 

For more examples of use of SMS is radio stations check out some quotes here: http://radio.frontlinesms.com/case-studies/

Topic locked