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

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Industry Structure
  • Work Routines
  • Ethics
  • Politics and Participation

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Communication Citizen Journalism
James F. Hamilton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0169


Perhaps the most important organizational development in journalism since its professionalization more than a hundred years ago is the emergence of citizen journalism. Although nonprofessionals have engaged in journalism for as long as it has been regarded as a profession, in the 21st century, citizen journalism as a form of nonprofessional journalism has disrupted conventional institutional boundaries and practices at a time of severe economic and social challenges to the industry. Citizen journalism calls into question institutionalized presumptions such as that good journalism requires a period of intensive training and its corollary claim that legitimate journalism can only be conducted by people who have completed such training and who work for established news organizations. Yet, today, nonprofessionally gathered accounts and images are increasingly and paradoxically an accepted part of the output of professional news organizations and their claims to producing an authoritative account of the world’s events. Granting the complex reasons for this and the complex ways in which it occurs, citizen journalism is both a symptom and a cause of the current crisis in journalism economics and cultural authority, one with great significance for the role of journalism in democratic societies.

General Overviews

Citizen journalism labels the activity of nonprofessionals practicing journalism. Outing 2005 and Watson 2011 catalogue its varying relationships with professional journalism organizations, from being curated by them to entirely separate if not overtly critical of them. From the start of scholarly attention in the early 2000s, the implications of citizen journalism remain contentious and debated, with the key tensions identified by Allan and Thorsen 2009 (p. 4) posed as a trade-off of openness versus quality, and democratization versus credibility. Scholars such as Allan 2006 and Siapera and Veglis 2012 argue that, whatever the position taken, traditional news organizations must adapt to it or become extinct. By extending journalism and global distribution to conceivably anyone, citizen journalism calls into question claims that journalism requires extensive training and/or apprenticeships. By enabling people outside of closed news organizations to gather, write and distribute information globally, it also wreaks havoc on claims that only professionally trained journalists can write authoritative accounts, as well as that traditionally objective-style reporting is the only way to compose such accounts, a development as Hamilton 2008 argues with roots in long-standing declines of economic viability and cultural authority. By developing digital newsgathering in many cases as a collective enterprise, Steiner and Roberts 2011 argues it calls into question the democratic role of news that is a rigidly controlled and managed product. And by demonstrating the economic viability of wholly digital journalism available via a screen rather than printed on paper, citizen journalism also destabilizes traditional means of support, which rely on exclusivity and control. The best recent global survey of these developments is Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development 2010, which examines in detail the increasing global economic crisis in journalism mainly due to the rise of new models of news creation and distribution made possible by the Internet. Although early studies focused primarily on the United States, scholarship soon addressed a variety of examples in different countries, underscoring how citizen journalism is shaped by local cultures and news practices.

  • Allan, Stuart. 2006. Online news: Journalism and the Internet. New York: Open Univ. Press.

    Focused account of key episodes in the emergence of citizen journalism, beginning with journalists’ use of public images in the wake of the Indonesia tsunami disaster of 2004. Argues that news companies now recognize that the emergence of citizen journalism needs to be embraced in order for themselves to prosper, if not simply survive.

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

    Broad international range of case studies of citizen journalism. The first section contains examples of citizen journalism used in crises of the moment, and the second section looks at its role and uses in the course of traditional democratic, parliamentary politics.

  • Hamilton, James F. 2008. Market radicalism and the struggle for participation. In Democratic communications: Formations, projects, possibilities. By James Hamilton, 199–231. Lanham, MD: Lexington.

    Provides a critical-historical analysis of the conditions that generated citizen journalism, viewing it as a recent response to the intensifying economic and cultural challenges to traditional media organizations.

  • Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2010. The evolution of news and the Internet. Paris: OECD.

    Addresses the emergence of citizen journalism from the point of view of the news industry, surveying emerging business models and forms. Concludes that key discussions in many countries seek a balance between how to help professional news industries survive and preserving a news industry independent of editorial pressures from patronage sources.

  • Outing, Steve. 2005. The 11 layers of citizen journalism. Poynter Online.

    Describes citizen journalism in terms of the different institutional roles in professional newsgathering organizations that users are invited to fill, from commenting on individual stories posted by news organizations, to open-source reporting partnerships, standalone citizen journalism projects, and “pro-am” partnerships.

  • Siapera, Eugenia, and Andreas Veglis, eds. 2012. The handbook of global online journalism. Malden, MA: Wiley.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781118313978

    A wide-ranging overview that sees citizen journalism as an outcome of the digitization and globalization of traditional journalism. Includes discussions of politics, production, practices, content, and global case studies.

  • Steiner, Linda, and Jessica Roberts. 2011. Philosophical linkages between public journalism and citizen journalism. In Media perspectives for the 21st century. Edited by Stylianos Papathanassopoulos, 191–211. New York: Routledge.

    Thoughtful discussion of the trajectory of challenges to traditional professionalized journalism as represented by public journalism of the 1990s and citizen journalism more recently. Concludes that citizen journalism has much to offer traditional journalism, such as in boosting lengthy investigative reporting projects, and that professional resistance to partnering with citizen journalism organizations undermines the profession’s credibility just as it reveals a disdain for democracy.

  • Watson, Hayley. 2011. Preconditions for citizen journalism: A sociological assessment. Sociological Research Online 16.3.

    DOI: 10.5153/sro.2417

    Conceptually organizes the variety of citizen journalism into efforts of self-publication and efforts of publication via traditional news media. Identifies key preconditions as digital technology, a more active audience, a broader digital culture that embraces participation, and changes in newsroom organization.

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