Citizen journalism is making waves even in India. Apart from various blog hosting services offered by Internet and media organizations, full-fledged projects are being launched to harness the potential of user-generated content. CNN-IBN and IBN 7 television channels have made significant progress in this regard. The channels telecasts TV programmes where viewer contributions get due importance. A few years ago, when one of the worst floods in its history sent normal life out of gears in Mumbai, ordinary citizens flooded the CNN-IBN news channel and its website Ibnlive.com with photos, videos and writes-up giving vivid details of the devastation and anarchy. This made the channel’s coverage of Mumbai floods an instant hit among the viewers. Power of citizen journalism was evident during the Tsunami and Mumbai terror attacks as well.
Buoyed by the response, CNN-IBN and IBN 7 decided to make it a permanent feature of its programming. Now the group has tied up with Idea cellular to allow Idea’s customers to report news items through SMS, MMS or phone, which will be verified by the editorial team at the editorial team at CNN IBN and aired in the form of Breaking News. You can probably sense a business-model taking place in the process.
NDTV too has encouraged its viewers to send SMS messages on unresolved and long standing criminal cases. In the wake of the campaign some unresolved criminal cases have been reopened by the courts. A south India based television channel, Amrita TV has telecast a 90 episode series based on citizen journalism.
A pasing phase?
Citizen journalism is clearly thriving. But does it have enough fodder to emerge as an independent powerhouse of content and pose a serious challenge to traditional media? Do professional journalists and mainstream media houses need to be worried by the monstrous growth of blogging and user generated content? Should it be seen as a passing phase of information technology’s development? Or does it signify an important developmental phase for the profession of journalism itself which will eventually alter the way media operates?
At the hindsight, things may appear just normal but dig a little deeper and you will find conventional journalism and citizen journalism standing at the opposite ends of a change-process. You will find that a significant shift of readership is taking place in the background from offline to online, from conventional to new, from content to technology-enabled content, from depth to speed and from individual to collective. Isn’t it an indication of the days to come?
In America, the Audit Bureau of Circulation reported an average decline of 3% in the overall circulation of American paid newspapers during April 01 to September 30, 2007, compared with the year before. Notable among the newspapers are New York Times (4.5 % decline), New York Post (5.2%), Newsday (5.6%) and Washington Post (3.2%). On the other hand, average monthly unique audience figures for newspaper Web sites grew by more than 3.6 million in 2007, signifying an a record year for the industry and an increase of more than six percent over 2006 figures. According to Technorati State of the Blogosphere Report (April 2007); 120,000 weblogs (blogs) are being created worldwide each day.
We in India live under different politico-social circumstances and trends of the west generally take a few years in reaching here. However, the findings of Indian Readership Survey 2007 (Round 2) too, albeit surprisingly, support the ‘shift of readership’ theory. Compared with Round 1 figures, majority of top ten Indian newspapers (in all languages) face a declining readership. Dainik Jagran, the number one Indian newspaper, too has fallen by over 6% along with Malyala Manorma, Hindustan Times, Amar Ujala, Tanthi and Eenadu.
Now look at the online space. According to the Internet in India [I Cube] Report 2007 published jointly by the Internet and Mobile Association of India and IMRB International, the number of internet users in India in the ever user or claimed user category touched 46 million in September 2007 from 32.2 million in September 2006.
Genesis of change
Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis, co-authors of 'We Media', a key report on citizen journalism say, "The venerable profession of journalism finds itself at a rare moment in history where, for the first time, its hegemony as gatekeeper of the news is threatened by not just new technology and competitors but, potentially, by the audience it serves. Armed with easy-to-use Web publishing tools, always-on connections and increasingly powerful mobile devices, the online audience has the means to become an active participant in the creation and dissemination of news and information."
At a time when Internet emerged as a catalyst of transparency, innovation, expression and togetherness, a shake up in the orthodox, stagnant forms of conventional media was perhaps a logical step forward. Citizen journalism brought some fresh air to the business of news. Unlike traditional media, it is not passive; it is not one sided communication. It is truly democratic, accessible and interactive. It is free, fair and fast. There has been a power shift from producers to users. Similarly, information is not under exclusive control of journalists anymore. Ordinary citizens’ right of expression has for the first time found means to execute it too.
But it may still not be the end of road for conventional media. If the American experiments are any indication, Internet based journalism may not pose a serious long term threat to the conventional media but facilitate a change of form. The ABC report, while indicating towards a serious downward trend in circulation of print publications has also indicate towards the rising popularity of the online versions and web based services of the same publications. Web versions are gradually filling up the holes created in the print circulations and ad revenues. This is indicative of a hybrid model where print, electronic and web live in harmony and supplement each other.
If conventional media houses are able to develop hybrid models where depth and maturity of mainstream journalism can be combined with power and reach of citizen journalism, they could come up with a winning combination. MSNBC, CNN, BBC, CNN-IBN, Ohmynews, Reuters, AP and other consumers of user generated content are probably moving in the right direction.