What is Citizen Journalism?

Lecture segment introducing citizen journalism. October 2021. Video by Andrei Stoica.

Lecture segment on IMA's four guiding principles for citizen journalism. October 2021. Video by Andrei Stoica.

What is Citizen Journalism?

There are a number of definitions of citizen journalism, but one of the more commonly cited ones is from Stuart Allan, who defines it as “a type of first-person reportage in which ordinary individuals adopt the role of a journalist in order to participate in newsmaking, often spontaneously during a time of crisis, accident, tragedy or disaster when they happen to be present on the scene.”

Citizen journalism is what happens when people who aren’t necessarily paid or trained journalists take on some kind of reporting role, which can look like everything from Darnella Frazier recording the murder of George Floyd (an act of journalism for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 2020) to livestreamers recording protests, posting firsthand video footage and other stories to Twitter (such as under the #SayHerName hashtag) and people documenting police and sending it to news outlets. Citizen journalism doesn’t have to be published on a news outlet or news blog; sometimes, it takes the form of social media posts, livestreams, podcasts, or even contributions to open newsrooms like CNN’s iReport.

Wondering how to get started creating a citizen journalism style story? Check the resources here or contact us.

Although most citizen journalists aren’t doing this as their full-time job and may not have any training in it at all, they do have a huge responsibility. Like any journalist, citizen journalists are bearing witness to often very difficult situations, are contributing to what history and stories get seen and remembered, and have the ability to either help or severely harm public discourse and debate--and the people whose lives that discourse and debate impacts. Because citizen journalists are often more embedded in local communities than professional journalists, they are both uniquely poised to communicate well with the public and can often unintentionally cause harm. For this reason, issues like consent and transparency, fact-checking and ethical practices around reporting on vulnerable subjects is especially important.

Learn more about ethics for citizen journalists here.