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Public participation in reporting makes newsrooms more diverse and investigations more powerful, though it also puts participants at risk

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, taken by Tony Webster
With just a phone and a Twitter account, anyone can act as a journalist now. The unprecedented level of public participation in 21st century media production has brought both pros and cons. For the positives, it provides news organizations with more diverse perspectives than a typical newsroom. A 2015 newsroom census by the American Society of News Editors found minorities made up less than 13 percent of newsrooms while the U.S. minority population is nearly double that. By engaging and using the public for content, many news organizations have benefited by seeing viewpoints not represented in their organization. Looking beyond diversity, embracing public participation can lead to investigations that otherwise would never have happened. The blog TalkingPointsMemo used tips from readers to drive an investigative report on a string of questionable firings of U.S. Attorneys that resulted in being the first blog to win the prestigious Polk Award. ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative organization, uses their Reporting Network that engages the public for local knowledge to help drive investigations. The network has helped inform actual investigations and won innovation awards for its management of crowdsourcing. Clearly, there have been distinct and important benefits to increased public participation in media production.
One of the downsides of citizen journalism.
Source: Pew Research Center

However, it isn't all positive. With no ethical, legal or professional training to rely upon -- and no media credential to flash -- citizen journalists are often put in harms way when attempting to cover riots or protests. In 2012, 47 citizen journalists were killed trying to report. More recently, during the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, a man named Antonio French was arrested for unlawful assembly while documenting the protests. His work was used by a wide variety of outlets but, since he isn't employed by any news company, he lacks the protection and credibility that professional journalists receive. Protecting, educating and not exploiting eager citizen journalists is vital for this level of participation to be more beneficial than harmful. Overall, the public can never be a complete substitute for professional journalists, but the public can provide important, supplemental contributions to impactful reports.

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