Citizen Journalism is a phenomenon of the digital age.
Modern advances in hardware and software have given the average citizen the ability to produce and distribute their own content; from the online blogger who writes about the D.C. political scene to the documentary filmmaker who produces short news segments covering the oil spill.
Tools like Twitter allows normal people to quickly distribute breaking news while online broadcasting tools lets viewers see through the eyes of citizen journalists that are live and on location.
The emergence of Citizen Journalism is certainly a good thing – it decentralizes content production and distribution while providing a myriad of viewpoints from around the world.
However, there are certain facets of citizen journalism that need to be carefully monitored, one being the threat of plagiarism. Decentralization of media means a less rigorous editorial process on all fronts.
In the world of citizen journalism there are fewer barriers to someone potentially duplicating content without attribution or authorization from another source.
Within the world of online blogging there is certainly a healthy culture of attribution through link-backs where sources are credited by providing a link to the site where the content originated from.
This link-back policy is enforced through an ‘honor system’ as well as the idea that word of plagiarism would spread within the blogosphere like wildfire.
Although this prevents a majority of bloggers from outright stealing content – there are a number of cases that slip through the cracks, ranging from a copied quote to an entirely plagiarized article.
Plagiarized content diminishes the effectiveness of citizen journalism. The ability to tap a variety of people to produce unique pieces of content becomes less effective if the content is reproduced without attribution or link-backs.
Plagiarism also prevents citizen journalism from becoming a more mainstream source of news. Some independent bloggers and citizen journalism sites are starting to become profitable, allowing them to make journalism a full time endeavor.
If their content loses its value they also lose their value.
Large news organizations also face a threat from citizen journalism – the sheer number of people covering any given story are bound to produce instances of duplicate content.
Some of this duplicate content can go under the radar of a news organization and steal away valuable viewers and readers.
Plagiarism detection software like iThenticate was developed for the digital age – allowing both smaller citizen journalism outfits as well as large news organizations to make sure no duplicate content reaches production.
As citizen journalism becomes an established medium it needs to embrace modern tools to ensure the intellectual property of individuals and organizations is protected.