Mapping Digital Media: Citizen Journalism and the Internet

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The Mapping Digital Media project examines the global opportunities and risks created by the transition from traditional to digital media. Covering 60 countries, the project examines how these changes affect the core democratic service that any media system should provide: news about political, economic, and social affairs.

Citizen journalists have become regular contributors to mainstream news, providing information and some of today’s most iconic images, especially where professional journalists have limited access or none at all. While some hail this opportunity to improve journalism, others fear that too much importance is placed on these personal accounts, undermining ethical standards and, eventually, professional journalism.

This paper summarizes recent discussions about citizen journalism: its various forms and coming of age; its role in international news; the opportunities for a more democratic practice of journalism; the significance for mass media outlets as they struggle for survival; the risks that unedited citizens’ contributions may pose for audiences, mainstream media, and citizen journalists themselves.

The paper ends with a call for a clearer definition of “citizen journalism” and for further ethical, legal, and business training, so that its practitioners continue to be taken seriously by professional media and audiences alike.