May 28





1 Like


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Citizen Journalism: How the Internet is decentralising information control

Image of a young man assumed to be a citizen journalist taking a picture of things going on around him.

When we think, “Who is a journalist?” It’s easy to see why our minds immediately go to a person holding a microphone, facing a camera, and asking people questions, or perhaps you imagine someone typing multiple lines of text, sweating away in a newsroom as they try to figure out the best headline for their next story. And, while this describes some functions of a typical journalist, the internet and technology are  rapidly changing that definition. 


First things first, who is a journalist?
By its original definition. A journalist is someone who writes, collates, or organizes material for publication in a newspaper, magazine, or other news source; the term often refers to someone who has been specifically trained for the profession or who is hired by a news or media firm to do so. Due to the delicate nature of their profession, professional journalists are usually subject to a set of rules and ethics imposed by their employers and/or the professional associations to which they belong.

The media plays an essential role in upholding democracy in that it has the vital role of being the watchdog of the government and reporting the government’s activity to its citizens. However, there have been cases where traditional media has been compromised for personal interests, sometimes by the journalists who pursue these stories and sometimes by individuals who own or fund these media houses and their affiliations.

It used to be the case that mainstream journalists were more separated from their audience, placing them as sole producers of news content. However, the barrier to entry into journalism is now significantly lower than it was several years ago, when one required significant funding and training on how to handle equipment or official certifications to be allowed to pitch news to news outlets.

The rapid advancement in technology has eased the acquisition of gadgets that would likely have cost several hundred dollars to purchase earlier and taken some more hours to master proper usage.  With a few button clicks, we can now type away our stories, record in real time our experiences, and for a couple more dollars or even for free, store them away in the cloud and distribute them online without much hassle.

Information has become less one-way, and the media space has become more participatory. Citizens can react to news releases in real time and even go viral with their responses alone. This means that traditional media houses now have, besides their professional guides and ethics, more watchdogs to watch them.

What then, is citizen journalism?

Now that we know who a journalist is, the question is: who is a citizen journalist? Used loosely, a citizen journalist is a blanket term used to describe individuals who are neither contracted to a media organisation nor have undergone formal training in the profession and who have taken on the responsibility of collecting and distributing information publicly.  Citizen journalism can also be referred to by other terms, such as participatory journalism, open-source journalism, and freelance journalism. 

According to citizen journalism can be explained as “news gathered and reported by everyday citizens (nonjournalists) not employed by news organisations, such as newspapers, magazines, broadcast television, and radio. This often involves the dissemination of information via forums, blogs, websites or even  more personal mediums like social media pages.”

A 2023 Digital News Report shows that one in five young people aged 18–25 gets their news from TikTok, and most of that news is not from traditional journalists or traditional media houses. The report showed that younger users were more likely to pay attention to celebrities, influencers or other creators than than legacy media houses

“A global study released in June 2021 revealed that younger adults were more likely to use social media as a way to access news, as 34 percent of consumers aged under 35 used social media for news, compared to 26 percent of all adults. Gen Z or Millennials also demonstrated a lower level of engagement with direct news brands, and just three percent used email for news.”

It is interesting to note that citizen journalism can sometimes be carried out without the deliberate intention of doing so; nonetheless, the effect remains the same. It is also important to point out that this also comes with several of its own advantages. For instance, we now have documentation and even video footage of occurrences that would have otherwise gone undocumented if not for random individuals taking up the role of journalist at the moment. A good example of this is Abraham Zapruder who unintentionally became a citizen journalist when he filmed President Kennedy’s assassination.

This is a trend that some have argued is cause for concern, as there have been claims that social media disproportionately promotes polarizing views, which can quickly become murky because there are no official rules/ethics guiding these individuals in the process, and platform rules can and are routinely violated.

On the plus side, many experts contend that people are now encouraged to report events in their local communities that may have an effect on the standard of living in the area. There has been an emergence of several organisations that are looking to make this mainstream and have created specialised platforms to make this possible. An example of such a platform is Ripoti (, a digital rights violation reporting platform launched by Paradigm Initiative to document and tackle the growing rate of digital rights violations across the African continent.

What are some positives of Citizen Journalism?

Speaking more about the positives, a few more are highlighted below.


Citizen journalism offers some major advantages in that the language is usually more personal and relatable to the audience, sometimes employing slang and catchphrases that most established media houses would shy away from, and sometimes even directly in multiple local languages, speaking directly to their pain points and those of their audience.


This act of journalism has also proven useful, especially during crisis situations where information flow might have been disrupted and more mainstream media houses might have been gagged. It ensures that news reaches the right audience in a more prompt manner than traditional media houses would. Sometimes even collaborating with mainstream media to distribute information.

Citizen journalism has been observed to provide more diversity in reporting. Citizen journalism means that ordinary people, not bound by the same standards, speak about problems as they see fit without being constrained to come across a certain way. It also means there would be multiple reports from different sources, perhaps even on the same issues, encouraging the audience to compare and contrast and finally draw up a conclusion for themselves.


Less risky reporting: Building on the ease of creating profiles on social media, we have seen the rise of anonymous accounts, some of which, surprising enough, have turned out to be sources of credible information, some of which even traditional media outlets have had to quote in their reporting.


In conclusion, I believe the place of citizen journalism in modern society has come to stay and is a very welcome development as it revolutionises the news space and promotes more citizen engagement and participation in the media space, decentralising control from media powerhouses and distributing them into the hands of the populace, like many other spaces that the internet is revolutionalising, It has its many concerns, but these do not exist outside of it’s significant advantages.


The writer, Kenneth Oyeniyi  is a Communications Officer at Paradigm Initiative.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *