PERCEIVED INFLUENCE OF CITIZEN JOURNALISM ON NEWS CREDIBILITY IN PORT HARCOURT
1.1 Background to the Study
The circumstance antecedent to the development of the phenomenon of citizen journalism is unarguably the bloom in information communication technology - the wide spread accessibility to the Internet and the affordability of mini computers in the form of smart phones and tablets, armed with a camera and publishing tools, giving every Dick and Harry the ability to record and disseminate news content.
This module for information dissemination tends to make the traditional modules of television, radio and print appear pale in terms of how quick information is gotten and disseminated, as well as accessibility to certain nooks and crannies. This has propelled traditional media outfits to incorporate the Internet into their functions; owning websites, blogs and streams. Most recent is the owning of computer application packages that run on mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers; further encouraging citizens that use their websites, blogs, streams or applications to source and post news events - all in a bid to be the first to get the scoop. Media outlets such as CNN, Canada's CTV, FOX, Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Silverbird, Channels Television, etc. all have Internet presence and have embraced user-generated news.
In support of this trend, The Times' executive editor John Solomon is quoted by Chris (2009), in an online article for Digital Journal saying, "We know there are many issues and communities we have not been able to fully cover within the confines of a newsroom budget, and we are excited to empower citizens within those communities to provide us news that will interest all our readers."
Individuals have also become self authorized news outlets - owning websites, streams, blogs and news apps on which they disseminate information. This however, has raised speculations about the credibility of the news gotten from such sources. Aspersions have been casted upon citizen journalism by critics, calling it "untrustworthy, shoddy and inarticulate" (Chris, 2009). In consonance with such aspersions, Jack Kapica, a former reporter for Canada's Globe & Mail is quoted by Chris saying:
I worry that many citizen journalists are basically amateurs who are simply mimicking what they see on TV or in the press ... Much of the writing I have read, on most citizen journalism sites, show little understanding of the process of gathering the news and writing it in a conventional form.
This study therefore, seeks to investigate the influence citizen journalism has on news credibility, as perceived by both exponents of mainstream journalism and citizen journalism, as well as the consumers of the news within the Port-Harcourt area of Rivers State, Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
As thorough as mainstream journalism is in the delivery of accurate news, it has not been spared from critics, accusing it of not being credible; how much more would then be said of citizen journalism that boycotts the conventionalities and regulations that are the hallmark of mainstream journalism?
While at the moment, the criticism of citizen journalism as not being a credible news source is gathering momentum, journalism experts project that it will definitely come under a full blown criticism. Jack (idem) posits that, "If citizen journalism becomes mainstream, then it too will be criticized for not being trustworthy." According to him, "It is axiomatic in journalism that the more influential you are, the more insults and bigger lawsuits you attract."
The problem therefore, is that citizen journalism is at an all-time rise and doesn't seem to show any sign of slowing down. In fact, its growth is proportional to that of the Internet and information communication technology at large. If Jack's position is anything to go by, it would mean that citizen journalism would achieve popularity to the point where it can be awarded the status of mainstream, and as such will come under a full blown criticism for the credibility of its news content, prompting curiosity for a research to decipher to what extent it will be questioned for its credibility, or not.
Such a research is a progressive one that follows the growth of citizen journalism, and because criticism grows with influence, a study of the perceived influence of citizen journalism on news credibility at this point of its growth is necessary.
1.3 Objective of the Study
The exponential growth of citizen journalism has spurred research into its various facets, and for this particular study, into its perceived influence on news credibility, with the aim of:
- examining public opinions on the credibility of the news content sourced and disseminated by citizen journalist in port Harcourt.
- determining the extent to which news content sourced and disseminated by citizen journalists is credible,
- finding out factors affecting the how citizen journalism is perceived in Port Harcourt.
1.4 Research Questions
To efficiently examine the opinions of the public as well as, exponents of both traditional and citizen journalism, and to accurately determine the extent of credibility, news content acquired from citizen sources have, the research poses the following questions:
- What characterizes and by extension defines citizen journalism?
- How credible is citizen journalism when compared with traditional journalism?
- To what extent is citizen journalism perceived as not credible or vice versa?
Citizen journalism is perceived as having a negative impact on news credibility because it is not restricted to the conventions and regulations of mainstream, traditional journalism.
1.6 Justification of the Study
The information one has is integral to the decisions that person makes and the actions he or she takes. Being misinformed is detrimental as it could lead to making wrong decisions and taking wrong actions. Therefore, a discourse on the perceived influence of citizen journalism on news credibility is important because it avails the reader the opportunity to determine if the overt reliance on citizen generated information could lead to misinformation or not - in that it could either be detrimental based on the lack of credibility or, beneficial based on credibility.
The benefit of such a study to scholarship could be the prompting to create regulations for the practice of citizen journalism in a bid to ensure news credibility.
1.7 Delimitations of the Study
This discourse is concerned with the definition of the concept of citizen journalism, a brief historical background to the concept, and an examination of its features. It is also concerned with what news credibility is and attempts to determine if citizen journalism has an impact on how people perceive the credibility of the news content they consume from its exponents.
The field study done to test the hypothesis of this study as well as, give credence to, or discredit its postulation has for a geographical scope, the city of Port Harcourt, the Capital of Rivers State, Nigeria.
1.8 Limitations of the Study
The major limitation to the study is finance; being a self sponsored research, there is no adequate funds to drive extensive travels and purchase of extensive literature related to the subject matter.
1.9 Definition of Terms
The following terms are the keywords used in the study and are hence, defined:
- Perceived Influence: this is a situation where the awareness of a thing has the power to change or affect someone or something negatively or positively.
- Citizen Journalism: the sourcing, collection and dissemination of news by amateurs – those not trained in the discipline of Journalism. It is sometimes referred to as Participatory Journalism. This is because it gives individuals the liberty to source for, and disseminate news contents.
- News Credibility: the state of believability or quality of accepting a news report as real, true or honest.
- Port Harcourt: the capital of Rivers State, located in the South of Nigeria; a metropolitan city, thriving in the phenomenon of the digital age and a potential hub for the practice of citizen journalism.