A citizen journalist is defined by PressThink as “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.”
For as long as I have been aware of their presence in journalism, I have been a staunch supporter of citizen journalists. They have done so much good for the world by simply recording a video on their cellphones.
For example, on Aug.9, 2014 in Ferguson, MO. when Michael Brown, who was unarmed, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a police officer. The shooting sparked the eruption of protests throughout the area and then the country for weeks. Citizen journalist, Antonio French, took footage of the demonstrations and how the police acted towards them and was arrested for this.
Dan Gillmor of The Guardian writes, “He is a citizen journalist of the best kind: a credible witness who has helped inform the wider public about a critical matter.”
French is a citizen journalist. Mayhill Fawler is not.
Fawler had been an established blogger before she became a “citizen journalist” for Huffington Post‘s OffTheBus. OffTheBus covered presidential campaigns from the sidelines without press passes, without gifts and certainly without helicopter rides. Fawler was one of the main reporters and was the one to expose both President Obama’s Bittergate and President Clinton’s Sleezygate.
As a journalist she did her job by pursuing information, which would go on to have an impact on two different elections. However, the way that she got the information was unethical. She uncovered Obama’s scandal by being a donor and having access to a private event. The status given to her by attending this event overrides the “citizen” aspect. Additionally, she released the Clinton scandal by framing a question.
Having a high status and knowing how to frame a question to get the answer you want are not qualities of a citizen journalist. Being a bystander and recording a video of police brutality is citizen journalism.