Citizen Journalism in the South Caucasus
The fate of professional journalism in condition of rising number of citizen journalists has become a subject of discussion among media scholars. Some suggest that citizen journalism will kill journalism as a profession. This issue is relevant in South Caucasus region as well, however not at as large scale as in other more technologically advanced countries. Anna Keshelashvili is a Georgian contributor for Globalvoices.com, a blogger at Socialblurbs and a professor at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs. She answered my questions about social media role generally and in the South Caucasus region in particular.
Do you agree with the idea that civil journalist will eventually replace professional journalists?
Citizen journalists will not replace trained journalists working within the media systems. Although technologies have changed the communication and information flow, and instead of one-to-many communication (as it was in case of television or print media, when media was the one telling people news) now we have many-to-many communication, where lay people report news from all over the places. However, studies have proved that whenever there is some danger, crisis close-by, people tend to turn to traditional media, e.g. during natural disasters in their own area, people look for updates on TV and the citizen media content comes next, in addition to it.
Where is a line between citizen journalism and professional journalism?
Nobody’s obliged to follow the ethical standards, you cannot force journalists to follow them – you can fire a reporter from the news media, but it is mostly their own personal decision to follow these standards. Same is for citizen journalists, the answer to that question lies in their motivations, why they want to report news to people and motivations can be different, accounting for the main difference between them, but on the other hand sometimes, in some countries journalists working in traditional media will be more unethical and more untruthful, than citizen journalists. So, there are lot of different factors that influence functioning of both types of journalism.
What are the threats linked with citizen journalism?
I think it is all great, the only problem which might come with it is that some maniacs might start writing some fake news and deceiving people, which I think will not be case for several reasons: one is that in general people are lazy and will not put an effort into making up news all the time, especially when they are not being paid for that; second is that everybody has right to express themselves and they too, but the plurality of voices doesn’t allow for such producers to gain a large audience, hence no much damage from that.
So what are the main advantages of citizen journalism?
Plurality of voices, news that haven’t been heard before or never get covered by mainstream media. A great example of that for me is Global Voices, which was created some six or seven years ago with the exact purpose to bring news to wider audience from all the different countries, published on local blogs, they are compiled and translated into English, and then volunteer translators translate news around the world into over 30 languages. Amazing project indeed.
There is an idea that the best way out to solve the citizen and the professional journalists’ relation issue is to integrate their work. Do you agree with this?
I guess that’s one of the ways of integrating news for which media outlets don’t have to pay, that’s why they are using more and more of such witness reports. Probably that’s the way to go for them, because that also attracts more people, audience increases.
Recent events in the Middle East have proved important role of citizen journalism in that region. What about post Soviet sphere, South Caucasus region in particular?
It is different in all three countries of South Caucasus. For example, in more oppressed Azerbaijan blogs are used by political activists more than other countries and the famous case of Emin and Adnan is a telling example. On the other hand, we have political bloggers in Armenia, who try to push particular party interests, while in Georgia blogs are more personal and people use Facebook for public discussions and as a news source. Sometimes this ends as a campaign, sometimes stays on Facebook.
Is there anything specific in terms of citizen journalism in the South Caucasus region compared to other countries of the world?
I cannot compare it with the experiences in other countries, because I wouldn’t know that much of specific uses of social media, but although culture of specific communities always influences adoption of new technologies, I’m sure there are other countries where these tools are used in the same way as in Caucasus region.
Is citizen journalism developed enough in South Caucasus to have a real influence on the public opinion?
Hard to tell, because it’s never the social media only that brings big changes, hasn’t been in Iran, in Egypt or anywhere, there are many different factors that influence the final big changes and results and that can happen anywhere, including Caucasus, which at the first glance does not have really powerful social media. In the end, it is always up to people, not just the tools or technology.