New Perspectives on Citizen Journalism

Publisher: Special Issue, Global Media and China, 4 (1)


Taken together, the selection of articles presented in this special issue, ‘New Perspectives on Citizen Journalism,’, offers a diverse array of perceptive insights into the evolution of pertinent reportorial forms, practices and epistemologies in China over recent years. Each article affords a distinct vantage point from which to explore research questions formulated to delve beneath surface appearances in order to reveal the lived experiences of individuals situated across the citizen-professional journalistic continuum.

We first turn our attention to perceptions regarding the relative credibility of citizen journalism in China. Jing Zeng, Jean Burgess and Axel Bruns’ article starts with a study inspired by the aforementioned Tianjin blasts, when the credibility of the authorities was challenged by information from citizens’ posts. Their investigation showed that citizen journalism was credited with providing better, more credible information, especially when the voice of authorities is in doubt. In fact, Weibo’s central control of its community verification system, which provides users with the ability to flag but no power to arbitrate false information, was found to be a factor limiting users’ potential for collaboratively identifying and exposing such information.

Following this, Yan Wu and Matthew Wall’s study explores how users of WeChat, China’s most popular social media platform, interact with news and political discourse within a multi-layered but monitored space. Gathering data from focus groups with UK-based users of the app, they examined how their patterns of news consumption and sharing contribute to patterns of reception, interpretation and dissemination that can lend momentum to the voicing of citizen concerns and support for specific causes. Wu and Wall focus attention on the blurriness of boundaries between news and the agenda-promoting effects of the meta-voicing that is linked to users’ online activities and conversations.

Next, the special issue features four studies examining the various aspects of the relationship between citizen journalism and the mainstream media and the broader political system of China. Yu Xiang’s contribution to this issue focuses upon short user-generated videos hosted on three online platforms, Xinhua, Kwai and Pear Video. Using frame analysis, it finds that user videos tend to be largely entertainment-oriented and apolitical in nature. Like Luo and Harrison’s analysis, this study finds that social media content does not exert an agenda-setting influence on governmental media platforms and indicates that citizen journalism in the form of short videos does not play a significant role in directly shaping news or political agendas.

A somewhat different picture emerges from Yumeng Luo and Teresa Harrison’s next study on how citizen journalism impacts agendas not only in sections of the traditional media, but also in the policymaking process in China. They undertake a comprehensive quantitative analysis of issues raised in commercial social media, a government-sponsored social media platform, a commercially-oriented newspaper, a government-sponsored newspaper and the agenda reflected in policy proposals submitted at the National People’s Congress in 2015. Their analysis shows that opinions expressed in online social media influence the agenda of commercially-run newspapers and, to some extent, the policy agenda, but not the content of government-run newspapers.

Moving the relationships between citizen and mainstream journalism from mainland China to the more democratic space of Hong Kong, the last two articles demonstrate a clear difference: such relationships are still yet to be negotiated for professional rather than political reasons. Florin Serban offers an account of the strategies of Hong Kong’s professional journalists in accepting and dismissing citizen journalism. Given the special status of Hong Kong, especially when the conditions of press freedom have deteriorated, journalists are facing the challenges of the rise of public participation in journalism. Professional habitats are built when professional journalism wishes to differentiate itself from citizen journalism; however, the struggles at the newsroom level to either accommodate or to reject the amateurs are also shaped by public participation. Meanwhile, the journalistic response prompted by public participation can also explain the struggles of professional journalists in addition to the struggle to define their role vis-a-vis amateur journalists.

In the final study, Karoline Nerdalen Darbo and Terje Skjerdal explore an aspect that is common to many mediascapes – contests over the legitimacy of citizen journalism. They study the relative role perceptions of conventional journalists and citizen journalists in the semi-autonomous region by interviewing a sample of those who cover politics in both groups. Their focus on how professional boundaries are defined also provides indications of how these boundaries are shifting. While traditional journalists are sceptical of the professional values and standards of citizen journalists in Hong Kong, the latter contest this and instead claim legitimacy by subscribing to many of the same values, albeit within a different organisational context.

To close, then, it is the expressed hope of this special issue’s editors and authors that its readers will be inspired to pursue research into citizen journalism. The articles presented here endeavour to build on the small but burgeoning scholarly literature focusing on Chinese dimensions to these issues, extending it in new directions with fresh perspectives.

Source: Manual