Rise of Citizen Journalism
Citizen journalism, also called "participatory journalism," is booming in the 21st century with the active participation of citizens in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of news. With the rapid growth in information technology (IT), the number of Internet users has skyrocketed, as has the number of Internet-based news media.
In recent years, IT has developed to such an extent that, like the mailbox, some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have begun to provide separate Web sites for subscribers. In the beginning, such Web sites were used just as personal Web diaries and were accordingly called Weblogs. Weblog became "blog" and has turned into a vibrant medium of information exchange. People are using blogs to exchange information, subsequently challenging the mainstream media, in which a much more limited number of professional journalists try to cover the whole spectrum of news and opinions.
Blogs have also set new standards for the human rights of freedom of opinion and freedom of expression. The blogs, as personal diaries, have remained beyond the reach of censorship, upholding the right of expression, working as a tool to safeguard democracy itself. They provide the public forum for free expression, when there is the risk of government censorship -- be it after Feb. 1, 2005, in Nepal or in challenging South Korea’s traditionally authoritarian political environment, or in setting up the Independent Media Center (IMC) to protest the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Seattle, U.S., in 1999.
Audience Participation at the core
According to Lasica (2003), audiences can participate in any of the following ways: user comments attached to news stories, personal blogs, photos or video footage captured from personal mobile cameras, or local news written by residents of a community, independent news and information Web sites, full-fledged participatory news sites, collaborative and contributory media sites and personal broadcasting sites.
OhmyNews has been leading the citizen journalism movement globally, particularly in Asia, and is also a full-fledged participatory news site. It has recruited more than 5,000 citizen reporters (CRs) from around the world, in addition to 40,000 in Korea. OhmyNews prints a weekly edition, runs three Web sites -- www.OhmyNews.com in Korean, english.OhmyNews.com, and www.ohmynews.co.jp in Japanese, which rely on CRs (most of them non-professional) for content. It also pays a small fee for articles contributed by these CRs.
The other leader of this movement in Asia is www.malaysiakini.com.
In challenging the longstanding hierarchical flow of news, OhmyNews has also decreased the digital divide, providing an opportunity for everyone to seek expression. Since then there has been a growing discussion on whether such citizen journalism is really challenging the mainstream.
The history of citizen journalism in Nepal goes back a decade to when the boom in broadsheet dailies provided space for reactions from readers. Now, many of these dailies are providing significant space every day for such feedback. Hence, the practice of citizen journalism in Nepal had its beginning in reader responses.
It really took off in Nepal after the Feb. 1, 2005, move by the monarchy to impose media censorship, restraining the mainstream media from disseminating objective information. Aryal (2005) states that blogging in Nepal took off after February 2005 as a means both to bypass official censorship and to protest against it, graduating from personal, sometimes self-indulgent observations to an important vehicle for free speech.
They provided an active forum for the exchange of news and views and subsequently played an active role in restoring democracy in the country. More than two dozen blog sites devoted themselves to the cause.
In this context, Time Magazine has declared web users as the person of the year for 2006. Grossman (2006) states, "It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter... Reuters is carrying blog postings alongside its regular news feed. Microsoft is working overtime to fend off user-created Linux. We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get hauled back into the global intellectual economy."
Like at OhmyNews, citizen journalism can flourish in Nepal as well. Shrestha (2006) observes that citizen journalism is still a novel concept for Nepalese in general, a recent development being thatKantipur, the widely-circulated Nepal daily, started a full-page readers’ column about three months ago. I consider this a form of citizen journalism, as there are lots of news and information and opinions from readers, sometimes more effective than that from professional writers and journalists. So, if someone initiates a full-fledged citizen journalism model here, it should be a success.
With the boom in the number of blogs, Nepal has also leaped into the age of citizen journalism. Nevertheless, the practice is still in its formative stage. Besent (2005) observes, by disseminating on-the-spot and uncensored news, the blogs can set viable challenges to the mainstream media in post-Feb. 1, 2005, Nepal.
Now it's time for a discourse as to whether such journalism really suits Nepal. During the 19 days of popular uprising this April, blogs posed a viable challenge to the mainstream media. United We Blog and Mysansar.com have since been the leading blog sites. Full-fledged participatory news sites, e.g., www.cjnepal.org and www.everestuncensored.org, are practicing good citizen journalism and leading the movement. Hence, media students now have begun to think whether this movement really suits Nepalese conditions. There are larger prospects, however, for such a movement becoming successful in Nepal.