In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Citizen Journalism

  • Introduction
  • Core Texts
  • Journals
  • Histories
  • New Forms of Journalism
  • Citizen Journalism as Political Communication

Communication History of Citizen Journalism
Donald Matheson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0145


Citizen journalism’s rise is paradigmatic of how journalism and the media are evolving. A history of citizen journalism—also sometimes called network journalism, participatory journalism, Web 2.0 journalism—is therefore also a chronicle of shifts in the nature of news, the authority of professional media producers, the media business, the shape of public debate, and the technologies of social life more generally. That history divides broadly into two threads, one about change and one about continuity. One school of thought begins with the programmatic statements of the enthusiasts for citizen journalism—among them Dan Gillmor, Jay Rosen, and Axel Bruns—and explores the enormous potential of experiments in reshaping journalism from the bottom up. Many of the key arguments in the debate about the potential and power of citizen journalism have been made by people who are themselves active in emerging media. The weakening of the business models of the news business in much of the Western world have focused attention on arguments emerging here, particularly on what journalists can learn from the flowering of new media practices and on the potential trajectories for the social institution of the news. A second, more skeptical, school of thought has focused on questions such as why change to the news industry has happened so slowly and how far the nature of power in society is challenged by citizen journalism developments. It would be a mistake, however, to see this history as too organized by these trains of thought. Much of the story of the rise and reception of citizen journalism has been told in relation to dramatic moments, such as disasters and conflicts, and in relation to particular technologies, such as blogs or Twitter. Many of the arguments also connect with or extend longstanding debates about civic journalism, particularly in the United States, about alternative media and the role of media in community. The term is therefore embedded in the range of different contexts in which it is invoked. On one hand, it describes initiatives by news organizations that can be criticized as attempts to reinforce their own centrality in the news landscape. On another hand, the term describes moments when individuals disrupt the political and media landscape through the ways they share news or become involved in intense public debate. On another hand again, the term describes a claim made by certain individuals about the democratic legitimacy of the media they produce. The better accounts acknowledge that citizen journalism is something both contested and fluid. Because the history of citizen journalism is young, this entry references both the small number of accounts that take a broad view and also the research that belongs to key stages in the development of the subfield. This bibliography has been prepared with the aid of researcher Emma Hyde.

Core Texts

Because citizen journalism is a new and evolving field of study, there are few comprehensive texts. Aside from Allan and Thorsen 2009, the core book-length readings remain the primary texts by proponents of citizen journalism’s potential. These include Bruns 2005, an influential theorization of how citizen journalism can, at times, reshape media systems, and the programmatic texts Bowman and Willis 2003 and Gillmor 2006, which have helped establish norms and ideals for citizen-produced media. Although they do not synthesize their material, the collections discussed in later subheadings, such as Papacharissi 2009 (cited under Citizen Journalism as Political Communication), Tremayne 2007 (cited under Histories), and Andén-Papadopoulos and Pantti 2011 (cited under New Forms of Journalism), are the next best place to look. Their range of cases and perspectives will help readers in conceptualizing citizen journalism.

  • Allan, Stuart, and Einar Thorsen, eds. 2009. Citizen journalism: Global perspectives. New York: Peter Lang.

    The book has two strengths. It gathers contributions from many of the leading scholars who have researched citizen journalism as it emerged and also covers many of the key moments through which citizen journalism came to public and scholarly recognition from a wide range of countries and perspectives. The introductory chapter by Stuart Allan explicitly historicizes the term, arguing for an understanding of its history that acknowledges its contested and fluid nature.

  • Bowman, Shayne, and Chris Willis. 2003. We media: How audiences are shaping the future of news and information. Reston, VA: MediaCenter.

    An early manifesto for “participatory journalism.” The report analyzes the rapid growth of blogging and other networked, individual, or community media online as signs of a new media ecosystem. The authors gather together emerging theories of collective forms of knowledge, self-correcting systems, reputation systems, and grassroots democracy to explore the potential power of these forms for journalism and society. The report, while overstating aspects of that potential, is prescient in identifying challenges and possible collaborative ventures for professional journalism.

  • Bruns, Axel. 2005. Gatewatching: Collaborative online news production. New York: Peter Lang.

    One of the first scholarly accounts to give credence to claims from bloggers and digital commentators that the lines between producers and users of news were no longer coherent. The book popularized the term produsage and drew on theories of open-source and community-based knowledge production to advocate fresh understandings of media practice. The book focuses on a number of case studies and provides insight into the hopes for citizen media, some of which have since receded from view.

  • Gillmor, Dan. 2006. We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

    This book is both a history of the rise of online citizen journalism and a call to arms. Written by one of the first journalists to recognize the contributions members of the audience could make via Web 2.0 media, the book articulates many of the key arguments made for blogs, collaborations between professional and citizen media, and networks of individual media producers, including their democratic power and their ability to enhance longstanding goals of journalism.

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