Citizen Journalists: An Inside Look at World Events

Friday, April 8, 2011

On March 19, media outlets across the globe reported the death of Mohammad Nabbous, the Libyan citizen-journalist responsible for founding Libya Alhurra TV, an independent Internet TV station set up to broadcast raw footage from Benghazi following the Feb. 17 uprising. When Internet lines were shut down after the uprising, Libya Alhurra became the primary contact for many international news sources, prompting NPR’s Andy Carvin, the senior product manager for online communities, to call him “the face of Libyan citizen journalism.”

Mike Lyons, assistant professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, says events like those in Libya exemplify moments where citizen journalists are an integral part of the professional sphere.

“People are committing ‘random acts of journalism,’ and that makes a tremendous difference in getting stories out,” Lyons says. “There have always been citizen journalists, but new tools have amplified their voices. The tools to produce news, and the tools to listen to that news, are more widespread, and we’re getting better at piecing all these little reports together to make sense of what is happening.”

According to Lyons, citizen journalism is not a new concept – audiocassettes, for example, played a role in the 1979 Iranian revolution – but new technology has made production quick and distribution more accessible. But despite what he sees as distinctly useful reporting, Lyons sees its shortcomings.

“Citizen reporting sometimes lacks context, so it can be hard to know what to do with the information received,” he says. “But, people like Andy Carvin at NPR, are becoming experts at putting it all together. And of course, there’s the danger to the citizen journalists themselves – when you commit these acts of journalism you leave traces of your identity behind, which has had tragic consequences.”

Media Contact

Lyons can be reached at 610-660-3429, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-3240.

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