“With technology and social media and citizen journalism, every rock that used to go unturned is now being flipped, lit and put on TV.”- LZ Granderson
A few months back, the story of a 51-year-old journalist Dinesh Kumar was doing rounds on social media. The man, who hails from Muzaffarnagar, Uttar Pradesh, hand-writes a newspaper called Vidya Darshan and then distributes it in the villages on a bicycle. However, to earn his livelihood, Dinesh sells chocolates and ice-creams in his small shop. Dinesh not just reports the news but also voices his opinion on the subject and the advises measure to curb the issue. But why does he do that? To educate and spread awareness with his handwritten paper.
This is the story of Dinesh, but there are so many people like him who are taking news to far flung areas in India where mainstream media fails to enter, and reports grass-root realities and issues. With the advent of social media and blogging, the role of citizen journalists has become more valuable than ever.
Amidst the chaos in television media and the monotony of newspaper coverage, citizen journalism is like a breath of fresh air. It brings out a new perspective in a society herded by mainstream media. Believe it or not, citizen journalists can democratize media and nations- it is instant news for the people, by the people.
While many refer to it as public, participatory or guerrilla journalism, many call it democratic. But it doesn’t matter what you choose to call it. It is one of the best example of how the Internet is putting information in the hands of the people. It offers an inherently empowering narrative, of giving voice to the voiceless in the society.
From the recent floods in Kerala to Chennai rains back in 2015, citizens have played a very crucial role in reporting the on-ground reality when the mainstream media focused just on mere numbers and assumptions.
In 2015, the students of the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, turned into reporters overnight. They covered the relief operations conducted by the Indian navy and recorded footage which were then used by the mainstream media.
A few months back, the video of a Sikh police officer saving a Muslim man from a possible lynch-mob in Uttarakhand was shared widely on social media. While that small video addressed the issue of lynching, it also showcased the problems of the society that we have created in the blindfolds of religion.
The reason why citizen journalists are now taken seriously by both the audience and the mainstream media is because the mainstream reporters cannot make it to all the places (fair enough). That’s when these citizens report, tweet, send videos and give us a true sense of what had happened in a particular situation.
In the long run, the mainstream media has forgotten the people of this country. While humanity is faded away, the fundamental duty of informing and educating people has been lost. The grass-root level happenings are conveniently ignored by the journalists.
And that’s when citizen journalism comes as a savior. They can be seen in the form of freelance journalists, a common man who is aware of his responsibilities or even activists who are working to bring in a change. Instead of running around the bush, citizen reporting is more focused and issue-based.
Over the years, the rural and tribal India has been benefited by citizen journalism. While the mainstream media chooses to report many issues being diplomatic, to save themselves from the clutches of the government, citizen journalists report the actual issue- fearlessly.
Look at the Aarey forest issue. While many mainstream media houses chose to support the government, activists and citizen journalists reported the on-ground problem, its affect on the lives of people and animals.
Over 100 million people across India are tribal who live in impoverished conditions. Their voice is unheard and their issues unaddressed. That’s when many rural journalists are giving voice to these voiceless by making direct link with the mainstream media or using the internet.
Going back to 2013, in a remote area of Chhattisgarh, a local farmer made a phone call that made a huge change. Naresh Bunkar, who is a citizen journalist for a rural community news portal CGNet Swara, reported an issue of a forestry officer who had extorted a bribe of Rs 99,000 from the Adivasi tribal community. Soon after his report, an official enquiry was instigated and within a month the official was found guilty and the bribe money was returned.
Like every coin has two sides, even citizen journalism aids in wider understanding of an issue. However, if not done responsibly, it has its own shares of risk as there are always people who are up for mischief and can spread wrong information and rumors.
Citizen journalism marks a watershed in Indian journalism. When natural calamity hits and people can’t find access to newspaper and television their only source of information is Twitter, mobile phones, and Facebook pages.
Today, many mainstream media houses are giving a platform to citizen journalists to bridge the gap and report the grass-root issues of rural India. With this step, many voices are being heard and addressed.
The mainstream journalism vests in the handful of people holding the position of authority who decide what goes on air. The mainstream media has lost the freedom and the fourth pillar of democracy is on the verge of falling down. But there are still people who are trying to hold on to it, shedding their blood sweat and tears, who voice out when needed and risk their own lives.
And amidst this, in India, which is the largest democracy of the world, citizen journalism is benefiting the country in every possible way, bringing grass-root realities in the front, with the help of Internet and small portals. It wouldn’t be wrong to call this a new revolution which is reshaping Media and Democracy.
Bringing you independent, solution-oriented and well-researched stories takes us hundreds of hours each month, and years of skill-training that went behind. If our stories have inspired you or helped you in some way, please consider becoming our Supporter.