Journalists’ Perception Of The Credibility Of Citizen Journalism On Social Media Platforms

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Journalists’ Perception Of The Credibility Of Citizen Journalism On Social Media Platforms


Abstract


This study focused on journalists’ perception of the credibility of citizen journalism on social media platforms. The population of the study consisted of 308 registered journalists in Uyo. The purposive sampling method was used to select 174 registered journalists as the sample. Data were gathered using the questionnaire from 174 respondents. However, 164 copies were completed and returned valid for the study. The objectives of the study were to: examine how citizen journalism has affected journalists and their profession; highlight the possible threats the credibility of citizen journalism pose to journalism practice; find out how professional journalists perceive the credibility of citizen journalism and to find out why credibility is a major issue in citizen journalism. Findings from the study reveal that citizen journalism lacked credibility and professional journalists felt this fact was enough reason for citizen journalists not to assume their jobs. The researcher recommended that citizen journalists must be guided to follow ethics of journalism if they must disseminate information on social media platforms.


Chapter One


Introduction

1.1 Background to the Study

The advent of the new media (internet) has given anyone and everyone the power and right to disseminate news to the rest of the world. Through the User Generated Content (UGC) which is internet-driven, user-generated source of information known as citizen journalism has become a recent catchphrase, sending waves of worry throughout the mainstream media. Citizens have stepped, or rather charged, into the news and information realm and are doing quite a good job attracting an absurd amount of attention from the public.

Usually, people without training, expertise or academic knowledge of news gathering and dissemination are not allowed to become journalists in the mainstream media. The internet has changed all that, people without qualification have become newsmen/women as long as they have their smartphones and computers in their hands and internet connection, they use these tools of advanced technology to send news across the world ( anyone in the world can access the information they send). Jenkins, 2006) and threatening to undermine the gatekeeping function so central to the professional purpose of the press.

Credibility online has become an important topic since the emergence of the internet. This is because the web has increasingly become an information resource. According to Wikipedia, Potential false news reports are just one of the many possible ramifications of sourcing news from anonymous sources. The news could be factually correct, but have flaws like blatant disregard of ethics, lack of objectivity, impartiality and balance. It could also be a hidden agenda or opinion sugarcoated as fact or a libelous or defamatory statement that puts subjects in the story in bad light. In mainstream media, a process of verification and checks called gate-keeping can weed out any such inaccuracies and biases. Gate keeping, so its called, is done by experienced and trained journalists and editors, using tools and skills like knowledge of the law and in house or commercial stylebooks such as the Associated Press, this helps to strengthen the credibility of the source of such news report.

There are three aspects of credibility: clarity (how easily the article can be understood), accuracy (how well documented the information is), and trustworthiness (how believable the information is).Credibility is very necessary in the effectiveness of reporting news, professional or otherwise. Mainstream news media networks spend time and effort building their credibility and use it every day when they report news. Credibility is important to journalists because, as disseminators and interpreters of news, they need to maintain a trustworthy relationship with their audience. However, because of the nature of citizen journalism, credibility is not really checked and valued by citizen journalists, their major aim is just to disseminate information about events online as speedily as possible, most citizen journalists don’t bother to check how truthful or factual their reports are unlike professional journalists. Professional journalists have been held accountable for their work. They traditionally have the responsibility to use moral reasoning when creating a story, abide by their respective news organizations ethical standards, and always seek and share truth when reporting. Brown (2005) noted that the work of a professional journalist is only published after it goes through the checks-and-balances process, whereas the common citizen journalist receives no such editorial advice and does not have the expertise to safeguard the credibility of the information. One of the major concerns professional journalists and news consumers have with citizen journalism is that citizen journalists overlook the importance of the checks-and-balances process and this neglect has the potential to lead to biased and inaccurate information.

Perception on the other hand entails one’s feelings and thought about an issue, situation and behaviour. People perceive things differently, For instance a person might perceive keeping dreadlocks as something irresponsible people will do while another person might perceive it as a fashion trend. Perception is actually triggered by ones value and beliefs, in the sense that a person might perceive something or a situation negatively if that situation fails to comply with the person’s values or beliefs.

Journalists’ perception in this study is centered on how and what professional journalists think and feel about this issue of the credibility of citizen journalism. Most professional journalists might feel with citizen journalism it gets more difficult for the public to decide what to believe. With traditional journalism, it is safe to assume for a long time that the information is factual, checked and re-checked for accuracy .But in the case of citizen journalism, anyone can write or record anything and present it as fact leaving the audience to serve in the capacity of editor ( Porter, 2009).

This study is important in finding out how journalists really perceive the credibility of citizen journalists on social media platforms.


1.2 Statement of the Problem

Since the internet has given rise to a new form of journalism called citizen journalism, professional journalists in the traditional media have been shaken by the fact that they are not the only ones who are sought after for news. The professionals are concerned with the fact that user generated contents might not be credible enough and pose some threats to traditional journalism as a whole.

Professional journalists may also fear that information put out on the internet by citizen journalists are inaccurate, contain wrong statistics and are opinionated rather than factual, most times, details of an event on social media platforms are quite different from what is presented on the mainstream media which will further lead professional journalists to questioning the credibility of citizen journalism.

Professional journalists are concerned that attention has been diverted from them who are academically qualified and legally recognized as journalists to citizen journalists who most times miss the proper elements and reason for reporting. Likening this case to that of a certified Medical doctor and a roadside herb man, the medical doctor feels concerned when local herbs are being administered to patients without proper diagnosis and drug prescription. The same applies to how professional journalists might feel about the credibility of citizen journalism. While the medical doctor fears that the herbs might be inactive or cause more harm than heal the patient, Professional journalists might fear news reporting will be mal-handled and that citizen journalists might fail to report factual and credible news events. The problem of this study lies in the fact that credibility is a major issue in citizen journalism and professional journalists might not have a good perception about it, which will therefore affect their attitude towards citizen journalism.

This study will therefore examine journalist’s perception of the credibility of citizen journalism on social media platforms.


1.3 Objectives of the Study

This study has the following specific research objectives:

  1. To examine how citizen journalism has affected journalists and their profession
  2. To highlight the possible threats the credibility of citizen journalism pose to journalism practice.
  3. To find out how professional journalists perceive the credibility of citizen journalism
  4. To find out why credibility is a major issue in citizen journalism.

1.4 Research Questions

  1. How has citizen journalism affected professional journalists and their profession?
  2. What threats do the credibility of citizen journalism present to journalism practice?
  3. How do journalists of the mainstream media perceive citizen journalism,
  4. Why is credibility a major issue in citizen journalism?

1.5 Justification for the Study

Most centrally, this study points to a possible future beyond the repetitive traditonal journalism vs citizen journalism wars which continue to plague journalism practice as well as journalism studies. This research has made important contributions by explaining the concept of credibility it’s connection to citizen journalism and how it as affected professional journalists and their profession.

This study will enlighten both traditional journalists and citizen journalists on the basic issues of citizen journalism that threaten journalists and the journalism profession as a whole and how journalists perceive the credibility of citizen journalism. The findings of this research will be useful to students of communication studies, researchers, journalists, citizen journalists and social media users at large.


1.6 Delimitations of the Study

This study focuses on registered journalists in Uyo and did not involve “all journalists” also, the study involved journalists from major media houses in Uyo The Pioneer, The Censor and The Pulse Newspapers representing the Print media, Nigerian Television Authority (N.T.A) , Akwaibom Broadcasting Corporation ( A.K.B.C) and Planet FM representing the Broadcast media. The study also focused on Journalists who are in charge of news and information gathering and dissemination and not those in the programmes unit.


1.7 Limitations of the Study

In the course of data gathering, the researcher had problems having access to the select media houses as they operate strict security, 174 questionnaires were issued but 2 not returned and 5 invalid. However, a letter and a document of Identification was presented to all the media houses and the researcher was able to meet the journalists through their news managers, the number of questionnaires returned (164) was used to analyse data.


1.8 Operational Definition of Terms

Journalists:

They are people who collect, write, or distribute news or other current information to the public. journalists can work with general issues or specialize in certain issues.

Perception:

This entails the way a person or a group of people think about something, in the case of this study it entails what journalists think about citizen journalism.

Journalists’ Perception:

It is the conception and thought that journalists have towards issues especially that which relates to their profession.

Credibility:

This is the quality of being trusted and believed by another person or a group of people apart from yourself.


Chapter Five


Conclusion

This study analyzed the journalists’ perception of the credibility of citizen journalism on social media platforms. The data collected during the study reveals that not many challenges are posed by citizen journalism to mainstream journalism. The majority of the journalists, irrespective of their journalism experience, believe that citizen journalism does not pose any imminent threat to mainstream journalism since it is just in its formative years. Mainstream media is believed to enjoy more authenticity and credibility among the audience because of its elaborate and well established system of functioning, in which the emphasis remains on accuracy and responsibility. The audience prefers news products by professional journalists over the citizen journalism content. This is a clear indication that citizen journalism can never replace professional journalism, but can only complement it. So the thought that professional journalists nowadays have to compete with citizen journalists is nothing but a myth. The main difference between mainstream journalism and citizen journalism is voluntary nature of work. Citizen journalism is participatory in nature while mainstream journalism is highly professional. The latter is more than mere reporting of facts. So any person with a pen or camera in hand cannot become a professional journalist unless trained in skills of observation, understanding, expression and responsibility. Citizen journalism content is usually of average quality and rarely possesses news values, while citizen journalists rarely follow journalistic ethics. This also reduces the threat of citizen journalism to mainstream journalism.

The biggest challenge seen by some respondents is that citizen journalists can sometimes break news on the Internet even before professional journalists. This has reduced the dependability of the general audience on mainstream media. Some respondents say even if they have not come across breaking news stories by citizen journalists, there are instances where the content provided by them has become the first clue for professional journalists’ stories. At times, a sense of insecurity creeps in the professional journalists when they see citizen journalists breaking the stories and hogging the limelight. But instead of seeing it as a threat, it must be seen as an opportunity to raise the bar further and bring an improvement in one’s own work. The best response to challenges, if any, posed by citizen journalists to professionals is to encourage them to do better, and work in tandem with them for bigger and greater impact. Citizen journalism has been and can always be used as a news source by mainstream media. It supplements the work of mainstream journalists. Citizen journalists scratch the surface, while professional journalists move in to complete the job. Even though citizen journalists have come up with some breaking news stories on certain occasions, mainstream journalists still enjoy more credibility, authenticity and popularity among the audience than the former.

The maximum number of respondents suggest citizen journalism should be encouraged for the future and believe that it is going to stay given the advances in new media technologies, such as camera phones, camcorders, blogs, social networking and media-sharing websites, and so on. Citizen journalism, in the coming days, is believed to become more accessible to people worldwide, since more and more people are becoming techno-savvy. Besides, some established news organisations, like CNN-IBN and others give a good space to citizen journalism content and seek citizen inputs (text/photos) about public issues. So citizen journalism is believed to grow in future with mainstream media outlets constantly encouraging it.

The majority of the respondents surveyed feel that citizen journalism has changed the concept of journalism for the better. It provides ordinary citizens with an opportunity to highlight the genuine issues that may be skipped by professional journalists. Citizen journalism, thus, adds value to the mainstream news coverage by bringing to light the issues at the grassroots level that are otherwise overlooked by big media outlets. Nowadays even reputed media organisations use citizen journalism content in their newscasts and documentaries. The content is believed to hold high significance in the contemporary times, even if its quality is low. Citizen journalism is a pathbreaking concept that makes a consumer a contributor. It gives citizens the power to express themselves and participate in social and political change.

Contrarily, some respondents have presented the other side of citizen journalism. They believe it has had more negative than positive effects on the concept of journalism. It has given rise to what some people call “journalism of assertion.” It means unsubstantiated opinion and rumor is passed on as fact, which harms journalistic credibility. There is also lack of restraint among online writers. The citizen journalists may violate the ethical standards and sensationalize stories in the absence of gatekeeping. There is also confusion as to whom to call a journalist, when anyone can publish. Citizen journalists do not abide to the traditional news values. They also show little knowledge of concepts like newsworthiness. Since they are not obliged to follow the framework of social media, their works tend to be less credible. Besides, there is a tendency of plagiarism as far as citizen journalism content is concerned. At times citizen journalists have also been found to upload unethical content. Some respondents say citizen journalists tend to focus only on one side of the issue or development, hence making the story unbalanced. The stories are heavily slanted in some cases. Citizen journalists many a time sensationalize things in an unethical manner. In quite some cases, one can find a citizen journalist transgressing ethical, professional and even legal standards either out of ignorance or willfully with malicious intent.

Most of the respondents believe that implementation of gatekeeping to citizen journalism content is a must to ensure its credibility. They stress upon having a proper mechanism to filter the news content, be it in the form of text or images, posted by citizen journalists. The details presented by citizen journalists should be verified and cross-checked from multiple sources and edited by professional editors before making them public. The job of citizen journalists must be to lead mainstream journalists to news that is inaccessible to the latter. Some respondents suggest that citizen journalists should be taught the basic and the most vital journalistic ethics to ensure credibility of the citizen journalism content. The organisations offering citizen journalism platform, be it websites, television news channels or newspapers, should start journalism classes for citizen journalists to educate them with journalistic ethics. The need for accurate, fair and balanced dispatches should be emphasized. Some respondents suggest that an independent body should be constituted to check the authenticity of the information drafted by citizen journalists.

All the journalists surveyed have access to new media technologies, while the majority of them access all/most of the forms of new media technologies. Most of the respondents have access to new media from five to ten years. Besides, majority of the respondents often access citizen journalism content, with most of them accessing the content on online media. The majority of the respondents have access to all types of citizen journalism content, which specifies a growing inclination of journalists towards a democratic journalistic platform in the form of citizen journalism.


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