(This column appears in the October 05 issue of PC Advisor)
Citizen journalism came under the spotlight once again this month in the wake of the terrorist attacks in London on 7 July. Through blogs and cameraphone images, members of the public who witnessed the events of the day were able to play an active role in the reporting process.
Wikinews, an online collaborative news service that anyone can contribute to, was reporting an explosion at Liverpool Street within the hour, and the story expanded rapidly as the day continued. In addition to citing traditional news sources, the article contained original reporting from Wikinews contributors.
Popular blog Londonist posted updates throughout the day as the situation emerged. One user commented "Keep up the good work! You're the best source to what's happening I found so far," in response to Londonist's coverage.
The Guardian newspaper used its News Blog to keep readers up to date with the situation, in addition to more formal reporting. The blog format allows frequent additions as and when information becomes available, making it more responsive to breaking news. The Guardian also requested eye-witness accounts and published many on its blog, including some from passengers that had been travelling on the affected trains.
The BBC already had an email address set up for readers to send their own pictures to and reportedly received 50 images within the first hour, and over a thousand after 24 hours. Some were taken as passengers evacuated from the tube tunnels and were later used in TV news reports.
As technology advances, the prominence of citizen journalism will only rise. Although it can create problems for traditional media, such as verifying that images and reports are accurate, it can also create a more comprehensive picture of events. In this inter-connected world, where anyone can set up a blog in minutes, media organisations that ignore its importance could get left behind.