Fake News, Citizen Journalism And Election Coverage

By Dr JohnIdumange
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One central tendency of Journalism is to disseminate accurate and timely information from the news gatherer, news writers, and publishers to the consumers. Since the end of journalism is to inform, educate and entertain the public, there is a new thinking that both citizens and Journalists can participate in explaining the changing role of the media and how the media can be used to develop society.

It implies that the citizens should be active participants at work with journalists that is when the audience employ the press tools and platforms at their disposal to disseminate information, it is citizens that are involved in Journalism. Citizen Journalism is made possible by the internet, which offers a less-expensive means of networking, interaction and participation.

In Citizen Journalism, people with smart phones, I-pads, cameras,Ipods and other gadgets obtain a news item, syndicate the contain via Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Ustream, Fliks, LinkedIn and other applications in the virtual world. Because of the instant nature of citizen Journalism, some fondly refer to is as democratic, guerrilla or street Journalism. Citizen Journalists are often bloggers, who scoop stories or expose doctored facts from mainstream media reports.

There is growing concern about a paperless world. The question on the lips of many is: Do newspapers play a valuable role and are newspapers irreplaceable? Can the new media fill the gap when the newspapers are off the street? The threat is more lethal when a newspaper-less future has the potential of undermining the mainstream. This is the thinking of antagonists.

Journalism has been about producing finished products by designated individuals and teams based on expertise, intelligence, and operating in a shared physical space. However technological advances show that changes that are taking place will change norms, contentions and ability of the audience to syndicate reports, photographs, videos and text messages which undermine the monopoly Journalists enjoyed traditionally. Under the new regime of citizen Journalism, anyone can do an act of Journalism. Palvik believes that because of globalization and empowerment that is the result of the internet; Journalists now need to think about a global audience, which not only reads but also writes, and comments on what is read.

Citizen Journalism, also called internet Journalism is the act of citizens playing the role of collecting, analyzing and disseminating news and information that a decent democracy requires. Citizen journalism actually started after the 1988 United States Presidential election are countermeasures against the diminishing trust in the news media. At those times, there was widespread disillusionment with the commotional news organizations. The thinking then was that rather than been buffeted by the torrents of negative publicity and poor agenda –setting in favour of partisan interest, the citizens should decide the content and quality of the information that was disseminated.

Kolodzy (2006) provides a working definition of citizen journalism. He said Citizen Journalism

......can encompass blogs that represent commentary on the day’s events or blogs that serve as a community news postings. It can involves a wiki, in which a new item or commentary is posted any anyone can add to or edit It can be a podcast reviewing favourite groups on a local music scene. It can be a collaborative effort between a reporter and expert to write and report a story, or it can entail a niche group of people, such as office workers of homeless activists, who published news, information and insight about their world…

Citizen Journalism is therefore a new type of Journalism in which citizen can take advantage of because of its accessibility, low cost and its ability to redefine the concept of community on the internet. Prof. Alan Knight (2008) using language emblematic of participatory culture observed that Journalism paradigms are changing. Said he: Journalists were once defined by were they worked; in the newspapers, or radio and television stations, the internet promises everyone can be a publisher.... so who in the future should be called a Journalists?

Some ardent mainstream Journalists argue that embracing citizen Journalism would bleach off the potency of mainstream Journalism. Fred Brown (2007) holds that bloggers lack objectivity and are partisan but the challenge has been that objectivity is an unrealizable Idea in Journalism. There is a symbiotic relationship between citizen and mainstream Journalism in the news ecosystem. Their symbiosis is improved by their relationship. Blogger’s according to Gerlis can support the code of ethics applied in mainstream Journalism while mainstream Journalists should give more attention to accuracy, increasing verification of materials, emphasizing differentiation between facts and opinion, and safeguarding sources.

Knight (2008) found that academics are increasing turning attention to the social media environment and writing tools such as websites, online publishing outfits and these blogs are exploding in popularly, sometime more popular than the burgeoning variety of text forms associated with Journalism. According to him much of mainstream media turned to blogs for eyewitness materials hence bloggers contribute to the news ecosystem.

Unlike the death of newspapers advocates, citizen Journalism appears to have put democracy back in the hands of the people. Social Media has made it possible for the citizens to collect, report, analyse and disseminate news in a participatory manner.

Whereas mainstream Journalists characterise citizen Journalists as self-interested or unskilled amateurs, bloggers regard mainstream Journalists as an arrogant, exclusive club, which puts its own self-interest and economics severely above social responsibility.

Types of Citizen Journalism:
Citizen Journalism falls into four broad categories. Each category is discussed in some detail:

1. Audience Participation at Mainstream News outlines.

Here, all incorporate reader comments in their blogs either through emails or direct posting. They also involve discussion Forums such as No New York Times reader from articles written by readers, contribution in fan pages, reports, writes-up, reviews, commentaries and debates on policy issues. Examples include: ABCnews.com’s: The Dallas Morning News; The Santa Fe New Mexican Publisher; Nigeriaworld.com etc.

2. Independent News and information websites:
These are privately owned but have robust audience (Consumers) both in government and non- government circles. These websites sometimes depend on some amateur independent writers (not paid salaries) to provide original interviews, research artists and reporting. In Nigeria, such websites abound.Some of them include: www.huhuonline.com; www.Pointblank.com. thenigerianvoice.com www.africanexaminer.com; www.africanheraldexpress; www.modemghana.com; etc. These sites primarily generate editorial digests, citizen reporting e-media opinion polls and commentaries.

3. Full-fledged Participatory websites: These are few in Nigeria. In South Korea there is the Ohmy news; the janjan in Japan, and the Indy media in India. These sites contribute significant amount of materials and citizen-reported news on economic, social and political issues.

4. Global voices-is another example of Citizen Journalist project initiated by Harvard Law School’s Berkam Centre for Internet and Security. The website aggregates accurate global conversation and call attention to areas glossed over by the mainstream media.

Wiki also employs software as a collaborative effort at facilitating the reporting of incidents such as the London train bombing in 2005 and the India Ocean tsunami in 2004. Today, Wiki articles appear on every websites and such articles can be revised to further improve their accuracy, content and quality.

Theoretical Framework
The main theory associated with citizen Journalism is the Libertarian Theory. The theory espouses absolute freedom of expression, and supports competitive exposure to alternative viewpoints. The theory holds that there is explicit connection between Government and the media hence the press should be free from censorship. It advocates that Journalists and media professionals should have full autonomy, only accountable to the law. Libertarian theorists believe that the media is a watchdog of human dignity, right to private property, expression and free speech.

The Social Responsibility theory, avers that apart from the traditional role to informing, educating and entertaining the citizens, the media should protect public interest by exposing the grey areas in government, policies and programmes. This implies that media has certain obligations to society. It must show truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance in reporting issues.

Characteristics of Citizen Journalism
The FIFTH ESTATE OF THE REALM is characterized by the following:

1. Everyone can be a journalist and there are no gate keepers

2. It democratizes the playing field of journalism. As citizen journalism fills the gaps of mainstream media, it attracts more eyes and ears of the community.

3. There is speed and spread in the dissemination of information.

4. Helps to cover the hyper-local news that concerns people’s lives, which mainstream journalism, have no resources to cover.

5. Citizen journalism covers areas which the traditional media misses. This is captured in the blogs, facebook pages and Youtube, whereas the mainstream press kept quiet over it.

6. It is less expensive: Most organizations are now constrained by dearth of financial resources to close their news bureaus and cut back on the number of staff. The implication is that news coverage on all fronts has suffered tremendous set-back and this is where citizen journalism provides succour by filling the gap created by the mainstream.

(1) REACH: Reaching a global audience
(2) ACCESSIBILITY: Social media tools are generally available to the public at little or no cost.

(3) USABILITY: Anyone can use the social media. This is why the social media is subject to horrendous abuses.

(4) IMMEDIACY: The time lag between communications produced by industrial media take days, weeks, or even months compared to social media, which is capable of instant responses; only the participants determine any delay in response.

(5) PERMANENCE: Conventional media, once created, cannot be altered (once a magazine article is printed and distributed changes cannot be made to that same article) whereas social media can be altered almost anytime by comments or editing.

In Nigeria, with the signing into law of the freedom of Information, Act on May 28, 2011, we are now faced with the challenge of deploying the new media platform for effective management and dissemination of information. In fact, there is so much information in the cyber space that our basic challenge now is how to manage it for the optimization of information for society’s ends.

McLuhan (1948) visualized that the world would be a global village via the use of informatics. In the early 1960s, McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called “electronic interdependence”: when electronic media replace visual culture with aural/oral culture. In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity, ” McLuhan’s coinage for this new social organization is the global village.2

These areas of breach are commonly found in intellectual property, privacy, free speech and the manner in which images are manipulated for some nefarious ends .

There are five main guidelines of a socially responsible mass media/press.

These include:
(1) a truthful, comprehensive, and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning.

(2) a forum for the exchange of common and criticism

(3) the projection of a representative picture of the constituent groups in the society;

(4) the presentation and clarification of the goals and values of society;

(5) Full access to the day’s intelligence.
Social media and blogs are important components of journalism. In fact it is a phenomenon that has assumed the momentum of a revolution in Journalism. They narrow the distance between journalists and the public. They encourage lively, immediate and spirited discussion. They can be vital news-gathering and news-delivery tools. It is assumed that most actors and bloggers are journalists who should uphold the same professional and ethical standards of fairness, accuracy, truthfulness, transparency and independence when using social media. Practitioners must always remember that social media postings linger on as online archives.

Citizen Journalism has the capacity to share information. Through the internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, marketers are getting smarter and getting smarter faster than companies”

There are four ways of sharing information.
The use mobile phones, pictures, email description, sharing videos, etc. Every blog has a sharing option especially blogs that are linked to sites.

The original investigative reporting is sometimes newsworthy, or occasionally it happens as a group activity – where a number of bloggers discuss an issue and pick it apart until the bones are revealed.

Network Journalism – that is sharing knowledge. The challenge here is to get the expertise and use it to improve the quality, accuracy and insight journalism.

Internet journalism has added value to both on-and-off line platforms. Some mainstream Journalists are beginning to produce blogs as add-on to their jobs. Blogging is recognized and often adopted by the traditional media as complementary to participatory media.

In Nigeria there is some form of resistance from professional Journalist to adopt blogging.

Highway Africa network has put it on the agenda in 2011. There is a range of online only media offerings in cyberspace without any nexus with offline mainstream media. A principal example is Ohmy News in South Korea-which has been a refreshing addition where most newspapers have historical alignment with government. The Ohmy model has groomed an array of citizen reporters.

In Malaysia, there is a developing example Known as Malaysiakini- which promises to be a standard medium providing audiences a chance to supply news and consent on local politics in contrast to licensed mainstream media.

In India, the Tehelka- is a famous Indian investigative Journalism site. Such initiations help to further online press freedom and to create credible media institutions that can practice credible online Journalism. The quasi-journalistic Mzalendo blog in Kenya’s parliament is another example. There is also the Ushadihi which means Testimony in Swahili. It is a website created after the presidential election crisis in 2007. The platform collated eye witness accounts of what happened during the elections via sms, email, Youtube, eyewitness reports and placed on the google map.

Bloggers or citizen Journalists differ in their modus operandi from gate-keepers model of mainstream Journalism in that if entails linking audiences, feedback and conversation, Citizen Journalism not just about information but communication and that enriches Journalism. So citizen Journalism is good for pluralism, diversity, which are basic ingredients of democracy. Citizen Journalism is the Fifth Estate watching the fourth; but there all strong linkages between the fourth and the fifth.

There is now decreasing interest of media houses in their readers and viewers; this has already affected the revenue of newspapers daily. There is declining social responsibility of the mainstream media accompanied by diminishing credibility. The reality is that whereas mainstream media affects a huge range of things: political; economic; and social sector, social media are not able to exert enormous influence to this level. But the role and influence of social media is ahead at the current pace. It could be possible that Citizen Journalism, which has no censorship, will dominate the mainstream media in the nearest future.

In a social media regime, citizens are no longer passive consumers but active consumers and producers as well. With the advent of citizen Journalism, there is a shift in social relationships between individuals, groups and government. The erosion of the gatekeepers’ role selecting writing, editing, positioning, scheduling and massaging information to become news has been relegated to the background. (Shoemaker et al (2007).

In Citizen Journalism, there is a place for investigative reporting, Even in the mainstream, many news organizations have cut back on instigative reporting because of low return on investment. Investigation and verification appear to be the hardest functions of citizen Journalism because Journalists lack resources to conduct in-depth investigations. This challenge is applicable to both the mainstream and citizen journalism.

In Journalism, news worthiness is measured by the Five W’s and one H. When a story is written, the most relevant questions to ask are:

1. Who is involved in the story?
2. What really happened?
3. Where did it happen?
4. When did it happen?
5. Why did it happen, and
6. How did it happen?
A real story should contain three or more of these elements. A news report about an accident which does not contain the time and place or where it occurred is suspect. A story that is genuine must have a source and it must be factual.

Codes and Principles of Social Media Practice
(1) Objectivity: The Social Media constitutes a very dynamic aspect of the mass media. Objectivity means to report an event, or story based on facts and without bias. And without fear or favour. Social Media Practitioners must be objective to avoid libel and its attendant legal challenges. (Okonjo Iweala & Pointblank N1billion Law suit

(2) Strategy: Social Media is a dynamic enterprise that requires investigation, clarity, strategy. Every Social Media Practitioner should be trained to acquire investigation capabilities, research skills, technology of the media and a fairly good knowledge of how governmental institutions work. Social Media actors should be able to define the purpose of posting a story or a report, or publishing news/opinion. Therefore defining the purpose is very critical to social media practice.

(3) Ethical Considerations: Journalism at all levels and in all climes must take account of some ethical issues. Ethical commitment is necessary for all well-crafted and well-researched and responsible journalism. This is why Social Media Practitioners should avoid the use of vulgar languages; the dissemination of obscenity such as pornographic materials on face book, MySpace, YouTube, Google plus, and any other Social media Practitioner should not post or published pictures of people with sexually provocative dresses; nude pictures or sex related videos. Snooping, plagiarism or divulging of official secrets and pornography are inimical to the social media practice.

(4) Genuineness: Communication is like pouring out ones inner intentions. Social Media Practitioners and bloggers always speak their mind outline in matters of socio-economic and political importance. Some comments are usually made without verification, as some verses are borne out of political idiosyncrasies. This has becomes a huge challenge because there are no standard guidelines for bloggers and soon it degenerates into errors not consistent with the principles of accuracy, verifiability and transparency.

(5) Rumours & Unconfirmed Reports: At no platform does rumour and unconfirmed reports spread like wild fire as in the Social Media. On the social media platform, spread puts pressure on bloggers to publish their stories, most often with half-truths, and outright falsehood. False reports circulate the main media with incredible speed via Twitter, YouTube, Face book, blogs and cell phones. Even major news organizations too often pick up rumours online and spread them with amazing speed. Distorted reports and rumours causes panic, accidents and ultimately chaos. This is why Social Media actors should be meticulous. Even the mainstream media engages in entrepreneurial journalism tend to peddle rumours to score political points.

(6) Ethics of Images: With sophisticated technology such as Photoshop, some bloggers manipulate images such as photographs, video clips via wireless technology. Social media actors and bloggers in the cyber space should be weary of capturing, manipulating or transmitting such materials. There are traditional principles of photojournalism that forbids the indiscriminate use of photos, images and videos. The deliberate manipulation of image with a view to bringing a person to disrepute is a crime and actionable in a court of law. This should be avoided.

(7) Anonymity: Anonymity is accepted more readily online than in mainstream news media. Newspapers usually require the writers of letters to the editor to identify themselves. Codes of mainstream media ethics caution journalists to use anonymous sources sparingly and only if certain rules are followed. Many commentaries and “chat” areas do not require anonymity. Online users resist demands from website and blogs to register and identify them. Mainstream media contradict themselves when they allow anonymity online but refuse anonymity in their newspapers and broadcast programs.

(8) Truth and Fairness: Social media comments on essays and postings should meet the same standards of fairness, accuracy and attribution that you apply to your on-air or digital platforms. Information gleaned online should be confirmed just as you must confirm scanner traffic or phone tips before reporting them. If you cannot independently confirm critical information, reveal your sources.

(9) Accountability & Transparency: We should not write anonymously or use an avatar or username that cloaks your real identity on newsroom or personal websites. You are responsible for everything you say. Commenting or blogging anonymously compromises this core principle of objectivity. We need to be careful when registering for social network sites. Pay attention to how the public may interpret Facebook information that describes your relationship status, age, sexual preference and political or religious views.

Journalists must secure their Safety during Election coverage

1. Situational Awareness: know your environment
2, Secure Apps such as location and use WhatsApp for secure communication

3. Drop all your personal worries and concentrate on the job of reporting

4. Use local laws or your judgment in deciding whether to make your press card visible or not. Use handkerchiefs to cover your face

5. Use a brown tape on your camera’s and other electronic devices to make them look older. This will prevent thieves during a period of unrest.

6. Stress Management: Election coverage is a rigorous job. Journalists should do stress management exercise. Sleep and eat well.

7. Do not be too friendly with security people. Remain neutral and avoid confrontations. Watch conflicts from aside. If you find youself in the middle of a conflict, do not run, move away.

8. Install SOS or any type of emergency communication. Put emergency contacts on speed dial. You can memorize some security numbers.

9. Solidarity: Never travel alone, always inform your colleagues and family before traveling

As at June 2011 facebook has 1.3 Million, and whereas the facebook tops Google for weekly traffic in the U.S and part of Europe, the Social Media has overtaken pornography as the Number one activity on the web. The overriding logic, which sustains the social media, is DIGITAL DRAWINISM -the survival of the loudest and most opinionated.

With the profuse use of the social media, collaboration improves the effectiveness of government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within and across levels of government.

Citizen journalism has taken the public by storm and opened up new channels of communication connecting organizations to individual donors in the digital environment. Judging by the popularity and the consuming wave accessibility of people, it does appear that citizen journalism has come to stay. It may not supplant the mainstream but their roles will be complementary. Journalism's very survival, at least its values and purpose - depends on the ability of news organizations; and citizens to adapt to the evolving media ecosystem. The laundry-list of roles of journalists as watchdogs, investigators, moderators, entertainers, analysts, informers, editors, commentators, and advertisers are also changing because of the internet and the fever of networking. With the advent of social media, fake news abound but they can be checked. During elections, journalists’ would jettison their partisan interests and play their role of election coverage with fairness, accuracy, objectivity, transparency and accountability. This is achievable by the mainstream and citizen journalist. As the media ecology changes what is advocated is collaborative journalism and a mix of social media and conventional media is likely to yield optimal results.

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