Mobile Impact: Citizen Journalism

By | November 16, 2008

Advances in mobile technology and the continued proliferation of mobile devices will mean a greater boon for citizen journalism. The idea behind citizen journalism, also known participatory journalism, is that individuals with no professional journalism training play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information. Mobile technology is opening up more channels of participation for people (aka citizens) who have been marginalized for lack of access to a public media sphere.  

Mobile phone subscriptions in the world are estimated to reach four billion by the end of 2008. Mobile communication hardware is growing cheaper, smaller, and more portable. Mobile technology is offering users hand-held technological convergence. The masses now have access to communication devices that can record a live broadcast, photograph or videotape an event, conduct interviews, write articles or conduct a survey or poll, all of which can immediately published to a global audience. .

The power to collect and distribute information used to belong only to media companies – a rigid, expensive and profitable information system of “one-to-many.” Mobile technology has broken down those barriers, giving all users read/write access to the larger information world – an affordable, open information system of “many-to-many.” 

So if “many to many” is the new model, citizen journalism backed by the power of mobile technology will continue to challenge the traditional structure and function of news organizations. The type of news being published by citizens ranges from highly personalized content, to groundbreaking news stories or pictures and video, as well as information neglected by mainstream media. Individuals with mobile devices are capturing ‘news’ in real or close-to-real time, often faster than professional journalists. This will continue to happen with greater frequency. For many people in the world, short message service (SMS) is their main news delivery channel, both for receiving information as well as live reporting of information.

Mobile phones are also being used by activists as tools to engage, organize, mobilize, and inform people in advocacy and social action campaigns. For example in 2001, when Philippine President Joseph Estrada was forced from office, he bitterly complained that the popular uprising against him was a “coup de text.” Protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards can now be organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

Increased collaboration between traditional news companies and mobile citizen news gatherers can lead to better news coverage overall and ideally, a more informed public. Successful companies will learn to be inclusive. For example, the news content of the successful Northwest Voice newspaper and website in Bakersfield, California comes from its citizens. “We are a better community newspaper for having thousands of readers who serve as the eyes and ears for the Voice, rather than having everything filtered through the views of a small group of reporters and editors,” said Mary Lou Fulton, the publisher.

Serious competition from anyone armed with a decent cell phone and an Internet connection will also force also professional journalists to make better use of mobile technology. The “mobile journalism toolkit” that Reuters and Nokia tested in 2007 should not be a one-time experiment. Mobile phones with cameras, keyboards, small tripods and solar chargers should be required for every professional journalist. If not, how can today’s journalists expect to remain relevant in this new mobile news environment?



Bowman, S. and Willis, C. “We Media: How Audiences are Shaping the Future of News and Information.” The Media Center at the American Press Institute: 2003.

Jordan, Mary. “Going Mobile: Text Messages Guide Filipino Protesters.” Washington Post: August 25, 2006.

Verclas, Katrin. “A Mobile Voice: The Use of Mobile Phones in Citizen Media.” November 2008.

Wikipedia: Citizen Journalism.

1 Comment

Sunil Saxena on November 17, 2008 at 6:17 am.

I found your blog thanks to a listing on Google news alert, and found it very informative and useful. It is brief, and highlights points that should benefit journalists. I am an Indian journalist and run the website I would be keen to provide a link to your blogposts on Please let me know if I have your permission.

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