In a world conformed by the media, web browsers, bloggers, tweeters among other means of buzz feed have been able to gain access to an audience that was once only available for professional, graduated journalists. But what really is our jobs as journalists? To chase the facts and display them around the world for public knowledge. As the web grows faster, so does our stream of audience. Our news, our discoveries become freed from its confines and are available to anyone, anywhere, at any time. And this is very powerful.
Yes, this does leave a path for coming across bad researched news that has failed in some ways, like when Reddit users identified the wrong man as the Boston bomber in 2013, for example, or when a network of media sites perpetuate obvious hoaxes and misinformation because they care more about clicks than the truth, something Craig Silverman described in detail in his recent report for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.
However, it’s not all bad. With the increase in network journalism, we have been able to gain access to stories and perspectives who would have otherwise been unknown to us. A great example comes via a piece in the New York Times magazine which is available online. It tells the story of a group of residents who live in one of the worst slums in Rio de Janeiro. A group that calls itself “Papo Reto,” meaning “straight talk.” Armed only with phones, they have been documenting police violence in the Rio favela, at great personal cost, because the Brazilian media apparently isn’t interested.
Other news like these are often seen from places like Ukraine where it is difficult for media outlets to devote that kind of resource that would be required to document every sighting of every Russian vehicle, or spend weeks analyzing different types of missile, or the blast marks that they leave when they are fired from a truck.
In the case of the Rio favela, the existing media doesn’t seem interested if a few people happen to die suspiciously, since that happens all the time — but it is of extreme interest to the residents of the Complexo do Alemão slum, and also to human-rights groups like Witness, which is trying to help more “citizen journalists” document that kind of behaviour in similar situations.
Are there flaws in citizen journalism? Of course there are. Is there a downside to giving everyone a video camera and a Twitter account and telling them to become reporters? Definitely. But there is also a massive upside to doing so, Papo Reto in Rio makes that point.