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Citizen Journalists Should Be Paid For Their Achievements

Schahrazade Halfaoui calls for a news business model on behalf of citizen journalists.

Today, nearly everyone has the means to report what is going on in the world around them. Even the most basic phone has a camera, and it is simple to post images or capture a video and upload it onto the Internet.

This means that across the world millions of citizen journalists are able to do something that used to be exclusive to professional journalists, namely: to put new content into the public domain; to capture some part of the world and enter what has been captured into the wider world where others can see or hear it.

Consequently citizen journalists are just ordinary people doing the job of reporters. They are not under as many obligations as professional reporters; rather than objectivity or impartiality, their ‘gold standard’ is more likely to be freedom of expression. But this does not mean there is no value in what they have seen and heard and captured. Accordingly, as there is value in such material, so those who provide it should receive payment for it.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about offering payment to some teenager who is blogging (and ranting) away in their bedroom. I’m referring to citizen journalists all around the world who have uploaded on-the-spot audio, video and information before their professional counterparts have even made it out of the hotel.

Global news platforms are increasingly reliant on this kind of user-generated content, but unless the user-generator is unusually canny, for the most part they receive no payment whatsoever.

To my mind, the way this level of short-changing has become standard industry practice, is nothing short of a travesty. Often the story would simply not get out if not for citizen journalists. So why should the international new business get out of paying them for their results (often achieved at considerable risk to themselves)?

For Example, during the Arab Spring, professional journalists were banned or censored by regimes and other powerful individuals who did not want certain stories to be reported. So citizen journalists with mobile phones were almost the sole source of first-hand information. Without citizen reporters, it would have been impossible to create a revolution. Through social media Tunisians encouraged the Egyptians and the Libyans to unite against dictatorship and oppression. Much of this was then fed into the traditional media, with international TV news and national newspapers running stories based on reports filed by citizen journalists.

Without these reporters there would have been next to no first-hand information transmitted to the outside world. So surely it is not beyond the best minds of the international news business to find a way of paying such citizens for the content they provided.

We hear so much about journalism needing a new business model. Perhaps citizens across the world would be more inclined to pay for the journalism they consume, if they thought they might be paid for the journalism they themselves produce.

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